Greater availability of community exercise facilities is recommended to promote physical activity in the large number of people with chronic disease. The Heart Wise Exercise (HWE) program encourages existing community-based exercise facilities to build capacity to serve such patients, by working with interested facilities to ensure they meet safety criteria, and educating exercise leaders.
Using a piloted checklist, 45 HWE programs were audited for the six HWE criteria (outlined below) in the greater Ottawa and Toronto areas of Ontario, Canada. A survey was also administered to a convenience sample of HWE program participants (N = 127).
Criteria 1: 71 % of leaders encouraged daily aerobic exercise; participants reported engaging in 194 min/week of aerobic exercise. Criteria 2: 100 % of programs incorporated a warm-up and cool-down, and 84 % encouraged self-monitoring during class. Criteria 3: 98 % of programs offered options for participants to exercise at their appropriate intensity. Criteria 4: HWE participants reported having chronic conditions including arthritis (41 %), osteoporosis (26 %) diabetes (8 %), heart disease (6 %) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (6 %). Criteria 5: 93 % of instructors offered health screening for participants. Criteria 6: 100 % of sites had automated external defibrillators, and 90 % of the instructors were aware of the documented emergency plan. The exercise leaders reported being 'knowledgeable/comfortable/confident' in providing exercise guidance to, and having clients with chronic health conditions; directing clients to other services; offering exercise intensity options; helping clients listen to their bodies; and, encouraging clients to provide information regarding their health. The participants reported being, on average, 'somewhat happy' to 'very happy' with HWE locations; program dates and times; leaders' knowledge of disease and exercise; exercise intensity; cost; and, social aspect.
HWE programs are safe and appropriate for persons with varying chronic health conditions, and participants are satisfied with and will likely continue attending their HWE classes. Future efforts should be directed at increasing awareness of HWE programs among referring healthcare professionals and participants at risk of chronic conditions. The HWE training program should emphasize that HWE leaders regularly encourage self-monitoring and daily aerobic exercise, which is well-known to reduce the burden of many chronic diseases.