Congenital heart disease: World-first study into role exercise plays

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Congenital heart disease: World-first study into role exercise plays

Living with a serious heart condition hasn’t stopped Taylor Colvin from living an active life. Now a new study wants to find out if others can do the same.

Taylor Colvin was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome shortly after she was born.

The now 21-year-old underwent three heart surgeries before the age of four, with her first being when she was just three days old.

While many others with such a serious heart condition – having half a heart – were advised against exercising, the Canberra resident said her medical team had always encouraged her to exercise within her limits and told her she was the only person who could determine what they were.

“I have always been highly active. Ever since I was a kid I was climbing trees and joining in with lunchtime soccer. As I got older I did a lot of rock climbing and now do a little bit of dance alongside the gym,” Miss Colvin said.

“The only thing I feel I missed out of was joining a formal soccer team, but even then, it’s not a big regret.

“It’s tricky at times (living with half a heart) but at the end of the day it is part of what makes me who I am and I love that.”

A leading cardiologist from the Heart Research Institute is looking to test the age-old theory that stopped others with congenital heart disease (CHD) from exercising because of fears their hearts would be under too much stress if they did.

Associate Professor Rachel Cordina is hoping to recruit 400 Australians with the disease, including children, to participate in the world-first study to determine if resistance training improved heart function, lung growth, oxygen uptake and ultimately life expectancy.

As part of the study, children would train face-to-face in small groups in their local area, while adults will be trained by Heart Research Institute personal trainers in local gyms.

Professor Cordina said people with half a heart had the worst life expectancy of CHD patients and believed a portion of that was because they were warned against exercise their whole lives.

She said treatments to help improve patient’s circulation were not well established.

“A whole generation of children has grown up consciously not exercising, putting themselves at risk of obesity through their inactivity,” Professor Cordina said.

“Some have developed into adults who are very unfit and don’t meet anywhere near the physical activity recommendations for the general population.

“Emerging research is now suggesting that exercising is even more important than in the general population for people with the most complex types of CHD because it has special effects on the circulation as well as their physical and mental health and quality of life.

“Pilot data showed that regular resistance exercise improves their heart output, their exercise capacity – their circulation worked much better.”

She said the research gave families and young people with CHD hope.

About 1600 people live with Fontan or “half a heart” CHD and more than 100,000 live with other types of complex CHD in Australia and New Zealand.

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