Exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation for adults after heart valve surgery


Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) that includes exercise training has been recommended as treatment for people after heart valve surgery. However, the strength of this evidence is uncertain. This updated review aimed to assess the benefits and harms of exercise-based CR for adults who have undergone heart valve surgery or repair. All types of heart valve surgery were included.

Trial characteristics

We searched for studies examining the effects of exercise-based CR compared with no exercise ('control') after heart valve surgery for adults (18 years or older) with heart valve disease (from any cause). The evidence is current to 10 January 2020.

Key results

We found six trials with a total of 364 participants. In this update, we added four new trials (216 participants) to those included in the previously published review. We are uncertain about the effects of exercise-based CR compared to control on the outcomes of all-cause mortality, health-related quality of life, and all-cause hospitalisation. 

Quality of the evidence

Results from this Review should be interpreted with caution because of some concerns about risk of bias (potential for systematic error) in five out of six trials. Only one trial had low risk of bias. Additional high-quality randomised controlled trials are needed to fully assess the effects of exercise-based CR interventions.

Authors' conclusions: 

Due to lack of evidence and the very low quality of available evidence, this updated review is uncertain about the impact of exercise-CR in this population in terms of mortality, hospitalisation, and health-related quality of life. High-quality (low risk of bias) evidence on the impact of CR is needed to inform clinical guidelines and routine practice.

Read the full abstract...

The impact of exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation (CR) following heart valve surgery is uncertain. We conducted an update of this systematic review and a meta-analysis to assess randomised controlled trial evidence for the use of exercise-based CR following heart valve surgery.


To assess the benefits and harms of exercise-based CR compared with no exercise training in adults following heart valve surgery or repair, including both percutaneous and surgical procedures. We considered CR programmes consisting of exercise training with or without another intervention (such as an intervention with a psycho-educational component).

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Clinical Trials (CENTRAL), in the Cochrane Library; MEDLINE (Ovid); Embase (Ovid); the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL; EBSCO); PsycINFO (Ovid); Latin American Caribbean Health Sciences Literature (LILACS; Bireme); and Conference Proceedings Citation Index-Science (CPCI-S) on the Web of Science (Clarivate Analytics) on 10 January 2020. We searched for ongoing trials from ClinicalTrials.gov, Clinical-trials.com, and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform on 15 May 2020.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials that compared exercise-based CR interventions with no exercise training. Trial participants comprised adults aged 18 years or older who had undergone heart valve surgery for heart valve disease (from any cause) and had received heart valve replacement or heart valve repair. Both percutaneous and surgical procedures were included.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted data. We assessed the risk of systematic errors (‘bias’) by evaluating risk domains using the 'Risk of bias' (RoB2) tool. We assessed clinical and statistical heterogeneity. We performed meta-analyses using both fixed-effect and random-effects models. We used the GRADE approach to assess the quality of evidence for primary outcomes (all-cause mortality, all-cause hospitalisation, and health-related quality of life).

Main results: 

We included six trials with a total of 364 participants who have had open or percutaneous heart valve surgery. For this updated review, we identified four additional trials (216 participants). One trial had an overall low risk of bias, and we classified the remaining five trials as having some concerns.

Follow-up ranged across included trials from 3 to 24 months. Based on data at longest follow-up, a total of nine participants died: 4 CR versus 5 control (relative risk (RR) 0.83, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.26 to 2.68; 2 trials, 131 participants; GRADE quality of evidence very low). No trials reported on cardiovascular mortality. One trial reported one cardiac-related hospitalisation in the CR group and none in the control group (RR 2.72, 95% CI 0.11 to 65.56; 1 trial, 122 participants; GRADE quality of evidence very low). We are uncertain about health-related quality of life at completion of the intervention in CR compared to control (Short Form (SF)-12/36 mental component: mean difference (MD) 1.28, 95% CI -1.60 to 4.16; 2 trials, 150 participants; GRADE quality of evidence very low; and SF-12/36 physical component: MD 2.99, 95% CI -5.24 to 11.21; 2 trials, 150 participants; GRADE quality of evidence very low), or at longest follow-up (SF-12/36 mental component: MD -1.45, 95% CI -4.70 to 1.80; 2 trials, 139 participants; GRADE quality of evidence very low; and SF-12/36 physical component: MD -0.87, 95% CI -3.57 to 1.83; 2 trials, 139 participants; GRADE quality of evidence very low).