Helping Little Hearts: Exercise prescription for children with congenital heart disease

A Heart Research UK funded project at the University of Exeter has conducted research into how best to provide information on exercise to young people with a heart condition, their families and schools.

CHERC research has found that paediatric cardiac patients are rarely given a full briefing on how much activity they can do, leaving many of them sitting on the side lines and being inactive. Some congenital heart conditions may increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis and other related heart disease at an earlier age than would normally be expected. Furthermore, people with a pre-existing heart condition may be more vulnerable and harder to treat if cardiovascular disease does occur in later life.

Professor Craig Williams, (Director of CHERC) Dr Graham Stuart (Consultant Cardiologist at Bristol Children's Hospital), and University of Exeter Associate Research Fellows Lucy Gowing and Richard Horn have developed the 'Physical Activity Toolkit', to give clear activity advice to young heart patients, their parents and teachers.

The 'Physical Activity Toolkit' includes an exercise prescription form, allowing parents, their child and their teachers know exactly what exercise they are allowed to safely do to help their heart condition. This form is completed by the child’s clinician and details what type of exercise they can do, as well as duration, intensity, activities to avoid and more. This allows for an individualised guide for the child, as no two heart conditions are the same.

We have successfully trialled these exercise ‘toolkits’ in cardiac centres in Bristol, Leeds, Southampton, Oxford and Cardiff and they are now being rolled out to be used in the rest of the UK where they will be adopted as part of general practise in all cardiac centres, including Great Ormond Street, Glasgow and Belfast Hospitals.

You can follow the project on twitter: @CHERC_UoE and @CHDToolkit.