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A project at Ulster University that is aiming to keep coronary heart disease (CHD) patients engaged in cardiac rehabilitation has received a grant of over £100,000 from national charity Heart Research UK.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide, and the nation’s single biggest killer. CHD is the most common cause of heart attacks and occurs when the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material.

Guidelines recommend that all CHD patients should be offered cardiac rehabilitation (CR) which includes exercise programmes, education, and ongoing support following a heart-related event, surgery or procedure. CR programmes reduce the risk of death and illness, and are delivered by a clinical team in hospital, before a 12-week maintenance programme in the community is recommended.

However, without support, it is likely that patients will stop exercising. A previous study found that using behaviour change techniques helped patients to stay active for longer.

This project, led by Dr Nicole Blackburn is aiming to use behaviour change research in a CR programme to encourage CHD patients to stay active both during and after their programmes.

All participants taking part in Active Belfast maintenance CR programmes will be invited to take part and those that agree will be randomly divided into two groups; one that receives the standard CR programme, and one that will receive additional sessions, have their activity levels tracked and receive support to encourage active lifestyles.

The researchers will measure the patients’ physical activity using activity monitors at the beginning, throughout and after the study, and measure height, weight and blood pressure as well as monitoring physical and mental health.

They will then analyse the difference in physical activity between the lifestyle change group and the control group after six months. They will also assess how well the intervention has been completed by patients and delivered by the exercise professional, and see how cost-effective the study has been.

It is hoped that these methods will encourage more CR patients to stay physically active for longer and improve their health. The results will provide more evidence on using behavioural change techniques in CR programmes and have the potential to benefit many patients with CHD throughout Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Dr Blackburn said:

“Exercise and lifestyle changes play a massive role in reducing the risk of heart disease, and it is vital that patients undergo cardiac rehabilitation after surgery or heart-related illness.

We hope that this project will help to inspire people to continue with their CR, and also help to change attitudes towards how important this kind of care can be.

Increased use of CR will not only help to improve patients’ quality of life, but help to reduce the strain on our health service by preventing the need for further medical intervention. We are very grateful to Heart Research UK for supporting this research.”

Kate Bratt-Farrar, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK, said:

“We are delighted to be supporting the work of Dr Blackburn and her team, which has the potential to drastically improve the lives of patients recovering from a heart-related illness.

Exercise and general wellbeing, including mental health, is so important, especially for patients following treatment.

Our grants are all about helping patients. They aim to bring the latest developments to those who need them as soon as possible.

The dedication we see from UK researchers is both encouraging and impressive and we at Heart Research UK are proud to be part of it.”

The £103,996 grant was awarded to Ulster University as part of Heart Research UK’s annual awards for research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease.

Last year, Heart Research UK awarded more than £1.6 million in grants for medical research projects across the UK. To date, the charity has invested more than £27 million in medical research via its grants programme.