There is substantial evidence supporting the prescription of exercise training in patients with left-sided heart disease, but data on the effects of exercise are far more limited for conditions that primarily affect the right ventricle. There is evolving evidence that right ventricular (RV) function is of critical importance to circulatory function during exercise. Even in healthy individuals with normal pulmonary vascular function, the hemodynamic load on the right ventricle increases relatively more during exercise than that of the left ventricle, and this disproportionate load is far greater in patients with pulmonary hypertension. Exercise-induced increases in pulmonary artery pressures can exceed RV contractile reserve (so-called arterioventricular uncoupling), resulting in attenuated cardiac output and exercise intolerance. In this review, we explore the spectrum of RV reserve-from transient RV dysfunction observed in athletes after extreme bouts of intense endurance exercise to RV failure with minimal exertion in patients with advanced pulmonary hypertension. Recent advances and novel approaches to echocardiographic and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging have provided more accurate means of assessing the right ventricle and pulmonary circulation during exercise such that quantification of exercise reserve may provide a valuable means of assessing prognosis and response to therapies.
The authors discuss the potential benefits and risks of exercise training in both health and disease while recognizing the need for prospective studies that assess the long-term efficacy and safety of exercise interventions in patients with pulmonary vascular and RV pathologic conditions.