Exercise Vital to Improving Health Outcomes for Patients with Cardiovascular Disease and Depression


Exercise is key to improving health outcomes for patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease and depression, according to new research findings from Weill Cornell Medical College investigators.

Previous research has shown that patients who have both cardiovascular disease and depression have as much as a two times greater risk for adverse events, such as heart attacks and death, and frequently present with other chronic diseases, though the biological reasons behind this are not fully understood. With recent scientific literature suggesting that physical inactivity may be at the root of that increased risk, the Weill Cornell investigators set out to see if exercise would tangibly improve these patients' health.

Dr. Janey Peterson

Dr. Janey Peterson. Photo credit: Faye Osgood

Their findings, published Nov. 13 in the journal Clinical Therapeutics, shed light on the biological mechanics of those improved health outcomes, and offers a threshold for just how much physical activity is needed to reduce risk.

"This study allowed us to dig deep into the biological mechanisms underlying why exercise helps decrease morbidity and mortality," said first author Dr. Janey Peterson, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology in medicine, in cardiothoracic surgery and in integrative medicine. "That's what is so exciting about this."

Researchers have recognized the connection between cardiovascular disease and depression in increasing the risk of adverse health outcomes for three decades, but previous attempts to improve clinical outcomes in this population have proven disappointing, Dr. Peterson said. Scientists have examined several strategies to treat these patients, such as using antidepressants to improve depressive symptoms and thereby reduce morbidity and mortality, but none of them have ultimately been successful, Dr. Peterson said.

In their study, the Weill Cornell investigators enrolled 242 patients who had recently undergone a non-surgical procedure to open narrow or blocked coronary arteries — 89 of whom had high levels of depressive symptoms — in a randomized, 12-month clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of exercise on this population. A subset of 54 patients agreed to participate in a biological measures sub-study.

Patients' physical activity, demographic, psychosocial characteristics and depressive symptoms were evaluated at the beginning of the trial to establish a baseline; patients in the biological study also gave blood. Participants were asked to increase their physical activity to the equivalent of walking about 4.2 miles per week.

While all of the patients were given an educational workbook about cardiovascular disease and how to live with it, half of the participants received an induction of positive affect intervention. Positive affect, a feeling of happiness and wellbeing, has been shown in non-clinical studies to enhance positive feelings, lead to higher self-efficacy, increase intrinsic motivation and promote flexible thinking and healthier behaviors. Weill Cornell investigators are credited as the first group to translate and develop induction of positive affect for use in clinical patient groups, which Dr. Peterson and her colleagues have recently employed to successfully motivate physical activity and other health behaviors, such as medication adherence.

Patients receiving induction of positive affect received small, unexpected gifts in the mail, such as fleece blankets or umbrellas. Researchers followed up with patients by phone at bimonthly intervals during the year; staff induced positive affect for patients in the intervention group at the end of each call.

Investigators found that patients who walked 4.2 miles or more per week for a year, regardless of what group they were in, had lower rates of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Patients with high depressive symptoms who achieved that physical activity benchmark were nearly nine times less likely to experience a major cardiac complication or death over the course of the study.

The biological study seems to confirm these findings. Researchers compared blood samples taken at baseline and at the end of the trial, measuring the amounts of a peptide (interleukin-6) and protein (C-reactive protein) that are implicated in inflammation and also examining activity in the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which is tasked with restraining a person's stress response. Higher activity is associated with reduced inflammation and better cardiovascular health.

Patients who met the physical activity benchmark had an increased ability to respond to stressors in a healthy way, a decrease in the biological markers of inflammation, interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein, Dr. Peterson said.

"The biological study provides strong evidence as to why physical activity works so well," she said. "We now have longitudinal data that we didn't have before. We can now show in a structural equation model, from baseline to a year later, how important physical activity benchmark is for patients with cardiovascular disease and the mechanisms."

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Awards and Honors Across Weill Cornell Medical College - Week of Nov. 29 - Dec. 6


Dr. Janey Peterson Receives Paul B. Beeson Career Development Award in Aging Research

Dr. Janey Peterson, assistant professor of clinical epidemiology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, has been awarded the prestigious Paul B. Beeson Career Development Award in Aging Research from the National Institute on Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research.

Dr. Janey Peterson

The Beeson award program supports primarily physician-scientists who are committed to advancing knowledge about the basic mechanisms of aging, prevention and management of illness. Every year, a limited number of outstanding junior faculty are chosen from medical schools nationwide and awarded grants from between $600,000 to $800,000 for three to five years to conduct aging-related research.

Dr. Peterson, who is a clinical epidemiologist and behavioral scientist and received her clinical training as a nurse, was selected in August for a $720,596, four-year grant to develop a physical activity intervention for older adults with multiple high-risk chronic diseases. She joins a cadre of 193 other Beeson Scholars who, since the program's establishment 19 years ago, are committed to academic careers in aging-related research, training and practice. Beeson Scholar designation tends to be career changing and establishes awardees in their area of aging research as a result of the flexible and generous funding, the outstanding support system of Beeson mentors and alumni, extensive networking opportunities and the selection of scholars from the top medical schools and research institutions. In addition to the NIA, the award is sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Atlantic Philanthropies and the John A. Hartford Foundation.

"I am deeply honored to have received this award and to represent Weill Cornell as a Beeson Scholar," Dr. Peterson said. "The award will enable me to advance my career as a leading investigator in aging research. The other 193 Beeson Scholars are now my colleagues, collaborators and mentors."

"I congratulate Dr. Peterson on receiving this prestigious and most deserved award, which reflects her dedication to improving the lives of older adults," said Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, the Irene F. and I. Roy Psaty Distinguished Professor of Clinical Medicine and professor of medicine. "Dr. Peterson's honor is significant for countless reasons, not the least of which being that she is the first nurse to receive the Paul B. Beeson Career Development Award in Aging Research. As her Beeson mentor and an alumnus of the Program, I take great pride in her achievement, as does the entire Weill Cornell community."

While physical activity interventions have been developed to help older adults who are frail or at risk of disability, and can preserve or even improve function in the elderly, none have been expressly designed for the growing number of people with multiple chronic diseases, who are two to four times more likely to develop functional impairments over the course of just a few years.

Working with colleagues and mentors from Weill Cornell and Cornell University, Dr. Peterson previously developed Positive Affect Induction for Regular Exercise (PAIRE), an intervention that employs positive affect to promote physical activity in patients with cardiovascular disease. Positive affect, a feeling of happiness and wellbeing, is a personality trait associated with lower risk of mortality, improved function and less pain in epidemiological samples and clinical cohorts. Positive affect can be induced by seemingly small interventions, such as small, unexpected gifts or listening to music, and has been shown in studies to enhance positive feelings, lead to higher self-efficacy, increase intrinsic motivation and promote flexible thinking and healthier behaviors, she said.

Using the Beeson grant, Dr. Peterson will develop a new PAIRE intervention that specifically targets the needs of older adults with multiple high-risk chronic diseases to motivate and maintain their physical activity.

Dr. Theodore Schwartz Wins Gentle Giant Award

Dr. Theodore Schwartz

Dr. Theodore Schwartz, professor of neurological surgery, was awarded the Gentle Giant Award from the Pituitary Network Association during a ceremony Nov. 8 at Griffis Faculty Club.

The award, the association's highest honor, recognizes individuals who have significantly advanced the field of pituitary disorders through patient care, education and pituitary medicine. Dr. Schwartz was honored for his work with Dr. Vijay Anand, clinical professor of otolaryngology, in advancing the use of endoscopy in pituitary surgery.

"It is a great honor to receive the Gentle Giant Award and to be recognized as having contributed to the field of pituitary tumor surgery," Dr. Schwartz said. "Ultimately, the lives of our patients and their outcomes are the most satisfying aspect of this work and I am appreciative of the opportunity to utilize these new, minimally invasive techniques in the treatment of patients suffering with pituitary tumors.

"These tumors are benign and curable," he added, "and returning patients to a normal life after surgery is the ultimate goal."

In recent years, Weill Cornell and its affiliate NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital have become world leaders in endoscopy pituitary surgery, Dr. Schwartz said. He and his team recently published a textbook on endoscopic pituitary surgery, and educate medical providers about these latest surgical approaches through Weill Cornell continuing education courses, at the Weill Cornell Brain & Spine Center's Surgical Innovations Lab, and at medical centers around the world.

The Pituitary Network Association is an international nonprofit for patients with pituitary tumors and other disorders. It also serves patients' families, loved ones and their health care providers. The association's mission is to support, pursue, encourage, promote and fund research on pituitary disorders.

Additional Awards and Honors

Dr. Thanakorn Jirasevijinda, associate professor of pediatrics (education), was an invited speaker at the Ciclo Internacional de Workshops em Comunicação Clínica e Profissionalismo hosted in September at the University of Porto, Portugal. The University of Porto is the largest education and research institution in Portugal which hosts doctors from May to December to present on topics related to current standards in clinical care.

Dr. Lee Shearer, assistant professor of medicine and assistant professor of medicine in pediatrics, received the James Horowitz Award for Chief Resident in July. This annual award, now in its second year, is given to one NewYork-Presbyterian chief resident of any discipline for outstanding resident advocacy.

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