During the Covid-19 lockdown we have remained stuck at home trying to keep as positive as we can. Young people with half a working heart have been worried about the virus so most have not left the house and have not been able to exercise and stay fit as they would normally have done.
We know that the fitter you are the better able you are to fight off this virus and all infections. Being overweight and unfit means that Covid-19 can affect us more so we would like to join with the country to work towards being fitter for winter.
Over the next couple of months we are going to encourage more exercise, help with ideas about healthy eating and remind people about things like getting the Flu vaccination early and getting out in the sunshine a bit more.
We all need some sort of exercise to be fit. Everyone will be able to exercise at different levels for different amounts of time, so slowly increasing our exercise is the safest way to improve our fitness. There are very few children, teenagers and adults with a Fontan Circulation who are told that they should not exercise. Most cardiologists are really happy for their patients to get fit.
The LHM team have written a booklet about sport and exercise which doctors have agreed but if you are worried about exercising safely or how much or little exercise you are allowed or able to do, ask your parent/guardian to call your medical team for advice just for you.
A lot of young people tend to go straight into exercise without really preparing. As well as wearing the right clothes for the sport and the weather we also need to protect our muscles and our heart and lungs by warming up a bit before we walk, run or ride. Its also important to then streth down and cool the muscles off at the end of the exercise.
Here is the link to the NHS warm up guidance – click here
Stretching and cooling down really can help reduce those aching muscles. Here is the link to the NHS stretching guidance – click here
Getting out for a walk
Everyone is now encouraged to get out of the house, including young people with half a working heart. Going for a walk every day can help general fitness. You can even go further and increase the distance you walk every day. The Fontan heart likes exercising the legs as it helps the blood move around the body and back up to the lungs.
You can download step counters on your phone or get a fancy step counting watch. Gradually increase the number of steps you do each day.
Yes, we know that walking upstairs can make us breathless but if you gradually increase the number of steps you walk up and gradually speed up the walk upstairs it helps your heart and lung function.
As always increase the challenge gradually, don’t run before you walk. The joy of walking up steps for exercise is that they are right there in most of our homes.
Going for a run
This might not be the right exercise for all of the LHM youth members but if you are fit and walking does not give you enough exercise your medical team might be happy for you to take short runs. Often a mixture of running and walking suits the Fontan heart best.
If you do decide to run, go at an easy and steady pace and take a break whenever you feel you need to. Remember its a short run not a race.
Riding a bike
Riding a bike is great exercise for young people with half a working heart. It helps get you from A to B but is also is supported exercise for the lower body and therefore provides good support for blood returning to the lungs. Keep an eye out for special deals for bike riders. Halfords are doing free bike checks to get an old bike on the road and the Government are helping with the costs of repairs.
If you find the balance and co-ordination of riding a bike a challenge at first practise can really help. Always wear a helmet to say safe and avoid bruising.
Swimming pools are just beginning to open for exercise swimming rather than just a splash around. If you have always been a good swimmer and like this style of exercise, it is a great way to exercise the heart.
Follow the guidelines set out to keep the swim Covid safe. We know that more chlorine is being added to the pool and fewer people are swimming at a time. Make sure you get dry and dressed quickly after being in the water because getting cold is a problem for young people Fontan hearts. Wetsuits can help even though you might not find them fashion forward.
Getting the whole family involved in taking an exercise class helps keep up the fitness but also can be a laugh. The online classes have been great over lockdown and they are still available for free online.
The British Heart Foundation has some great rehabilitation exercise videos available if you want to start slowly and gently work up your exercise tolerance, they can be found by clicking here.
The British Heart Foundation also has a harder workout for people who are bit fitter. You could explore what sort of classes are available locally now that gyms are open.
Using gym equipment like the treadmill, bike or cross trainer are good ways to exercise, raise the heart rate and generally build up your fitness. Most gyms are open now with a reduced number of pieces of equipment as well as changes to the way the gym space is used. Its a good idea to think about whether this is the best place to get active if you have a single ventricle heart condition as you will be inside and close to other people, outdoor exercise would be a better choice as it holds fewer risks of catching Covid-19.
Weights, especially upper body weights or too much upper body exercise is not great for someone with a Fontan circulation as building up too much upper body muscle creates resistance for blood flowing to the head and then returning to the heart and lungs. General upper body fitness is fine.
We should never be under estimate how important fluid is for keeping a Fontan heart healthy. We all rely on a good amount of blood we have moving around our body at any one time. For the Fontan to work well it is good to have a good amount of blood for the heart to pump. Every drink we drink ends up in the blood before it travels to the kidneys so it is this fluid that helps keep the amount of blood up. Drinking water is the best as it helps to keep our cells fresh and clean.
How much children, teenagers and adults should drink can found clicking on the following links:
Fruit juice, squash and fizzy drinks are fun for a treat but are not great for a healthy diet and can cause tooth decay, which is not great if you have half a working heart – click here to find out more.
During puberty especially if you are not particularly active you may see yourself start to gain weight. For some gaining too much weight can become an issue especially if they are still eating food that is filled with sugar and fat.
We are not suggesting that everyone with a Fontan circulation should go on a strict diet, unless their doctors or dietitian have told them to, we are suggesting that healthy diet is a positive decision and can really help with your health.
Using the healthy plate guide can make it easy to make these healthy food choices and learning to cook and create healthy tasty dishes is fun.
No one is saying that a treat is not a fun thing to have every now and then. We all like treats.
There is some evidence that the people who have suffered the most from Covid – 19 have had a low level of Vitamin D in their system. Although the reasons for this link are unknown and Vitamin D levels go down in the elderly population it may also be because they spend little time outside or it may be part of their genetic make up.
Vitamin supplements may be prescribed for some people if there levels are low the easiest thing to do is to get outside and enjoy the sun and the light. Always remember the skin needs protection from hot sun so remember the sunscreen.