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Cardiac patients regain fitness confidence with exercise aftercare at Cardiff Metropolitan University

News | 17 April 2024

Cardiac patients across south Wales now have access to exercise rehabilitation at Cardiff Metropolitan University following a new collaboration with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (CVUHB) and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB).

The Cardiff Met Exercise for Health Hub provides cardiac patients, who have already completed a hospital-based programme, follow up care using the facilities at the University’s Cyncoed campus with the support of staff. The programme aims to keep people active, improve their overall recovery and reduce readmissions to hospital, taking pressure off the NHS.

Patients who attend the clinics at the University are provided with an individualised exercise prescription, tailored to their specific needs to improve their health and fitness and to help them gain the confidence to exercise independently following a cardiac event.

David Howden, 45 from Usk, suffered a ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) – a type of heart attack that mainly affects your heart’s lower chambers – which resulted in a cardiac arrest while in the gym in November 2022. He had no previous health conditions and was otherwise fit and healthy. David was then diagnosed with heart disease and an anatomical issue, resulting in a double heart bypass. Following completion of the 6-week hospital cardiac rehabilitation programme which patients receive as part of their NHS care through the health board, David has since been attending Cardiff Met’s Exercise for Health Hub.

David said: “I had no physical symptoms leading up to my cardiac arrest, so it came as a complete shock. I have always been a keen crossfit trainer, training up to six times a week and my cardiac arrest happened while I was in the gym. So, for me personally, the most difficult part of my recovery has been the psychological side. The team at Cardiff Met have helped me gain the confidence to train independently in a gym again, at an elevated heart rate, in a safe environment. Psychologically, this programme has been just as important as the surgery.

“Having access to the Exercise for Health Hub has also helped me to keep on track with my fitness journey and not fall into bad habits since having the arrest, which could have easily happened. The initial rehab programme which patients receive just wouldn’t have been enough for me, my recovery was not complete at this point. Without Brian and the team at Cardiff Met providing this extra service, I think I may have struggled. The way it was tailored so personally to my own recovery has been perfect.”


The choice of exercise prescribed to patients who attend the Cardiff Met Exercise for Health Hub is informed by world-leading research conducted by Cardiff Met and collaborators from across the UK*. The research team found that vigorous high intensity exercise was safe and more effective at delivering fitness gains compared to traditional moderate intensity exercise. This work has now been adopted by UK cardiac rehab programmes and incorporated into the clinical standards for working with cardiac patients.

Brian Begg is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Cardiff Metropolitan University and has been responsible for setting up and working with patients who attend Cardiff Met’s Exercise for Health Hub.

Brian said: “Since the Hub started, our overall aim has been to create independent, competent and safe exercisers. The sessions encourage patients to continue exercising, where they may have been more likely to fall back into bad habits after completing the initial hospital-based training. If we can keep people active long-term, it will reduce readmission rates, and therefore help to relieve some of the pressure from the NHS. The collaboration between the University and Health Boards has also provided patients with more local options to continue their ongoing exercise, recovery and rehabilitation in a safe environment – helping to improve their quality of life.”

Brian continued: “These collaborations also give students the opportunity to have meaningful and quality placements where they get to meet patients, rather than just reading about theoretical patients in a book. They’re experiencing the real life, pragmatic side of patient care, preparing them for future careers in the NHS and essentially making students more attractive to future employees.

“Undoubtably for patients, we have seen how the Exercise for Health Hub has created a sense of independence. People who exercise will get fitter. But for cardiac patients, what’s more important is getting the confidence back to do those daily tasks we often take for granted. Our goal is to get patients to the position where they don’t feel they need our support anymore, this is exactly what we want.”

For students studying BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science at Cardiff Met, the referrals allow them to work with clinical patients and gain real-world learning. Katie Mackay, 21 from Bristol, is currently studying BSc (Hons) Sports and Exercise Science at Cardiff Met and one of the students working with clinical patients to gain real-world learning.

Katie said: “Prior to coming along to the rehab sessions, I had imagined that a cardiac patient would be an unhealthy person. But the opportunity to come along to these sessions was a real eye-opener as this wasn’t the case. I was so surprised to see the intensive exercise plans they were working to. It was also really useful to have first-hand experience working with patients while studying and to see how staff interact with them.”

For more information on Cardiff Met’s Exercise for Health Hub, contact Brian Begg on brbegg@cardiffmet.ac.uk.

* High-intensity interval training in cardiac rehabilitation: a multi-centre randomized controlled trial | European Journal of Preventive Cardiology | Oxford Academic