Doctors and researchers have debated for some time whether specific exercises and training could safely help people living with half hearts improve their ability to exercise.
Although the benefits of physical activity are well recognized, the situation could be very different for people with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) and other types of congenital heart disease.
In a preliminary study, HRI Assoc Prof. Rachael Cordinafrom Clinical Research Groupfound interesting results showing that specific lower leg resistance exercises helped HLHS participants improve their exercise capacity and heart function.
Now, in a world first, Professor Assoc Cordina is embarking on a larger trial called “CH-FIT: The Congenital Heart Fitness Intervention Trial”. CH-FIT will study the benefits of its specific exercise program, which includes resistance training for people with HLHS and other congenital heart defects.
Assoc Prof Cordina answers questions about his groundbreaking research.
Why is this study so important?
Until recently, people with congenital heart disease were not expected to survive into adulthood. But now we have more adults than children living with congenital heart disease. But they grew up in a culture where they were told not to exercise because it could be dangerous. It’s hard if you haven’t learned to be active in childhood, to suddenly change your habits in adulthood and become an active person.
What group of people with congenital heart disease are you focusing on?
The subgroup we study in the most detail is people with HLHS, who live with half a heart. They have traditionally had the most complex type of disease, the worst life expectancy and the worst health outcomes.
My doctoral research showed that because there is no heart pump pushing blood to the lungs, people with half hearts rely much more on exercising muscles in the body to circulate blood. , which makes healthy muscles and regular exercise even more important for these people. individuals than for the general population.
How will the study work?
We will be recruiting nearly 400 people across Australia, by far the largest number of any similar study. The children will all train face-to-face in targeted groups in their area. Fitness First has partnered with us and we’ve developed a telehealth model for adults that’s like training at Fitness First gyms. We plan to determine each person’s optimal exercise levels and create a personalized plan for each.
What kind of impact might the results of your research have on people with HLHS?
The potential is enormous. In our preliminary study, we showed that with our specific resistance training, people living with half hearts could improve their cardiac output, and at the same time their exercise capacity and circulation worked much better.
Since exercise is also beneficial for mental health, quality of life and social functioning, the changes brought about by our study offer enormous hope for increasing the life expectancy of people with HLHS.
Why are you so passionate about congenital heart disease research?
I am so passionate about my patients and the work is very rewarding. So many people didn’t even expect to finish school, let alone college, or start a family.
But one of my patients is now a junior surgeon, taking care of one of my other patients. She messaged me to say how well her patient was doing, “better than me on day 2 post op” – which really shows the progress of research and how it can save or extend lives. It makes me so proud.
How people can help
As the end of the fiscal year approaches, HRI is asking people to consider a tax-free donation to support their vital work.
Examples of how funding is used:
- To purchase a state-of-the-art blood pressure measurement system, rapidly accelerating our intelligence on blood pressure related to cardiovascular disease.
- Facilitate ongoing specialized group training sessions for children or private training sessions under the supervision of an exercise physiologist to monitor congenital heart disease (CHD).
- To help cover the cost of a crucial MRI after 12 months for participants with coronary artery disease, whose heart function cannot be accurately measured by cardiac ultrasound.
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