How cycling helps heart attack victims rebuild their lives

Rosie Lewis, Michael Johnston, Debbie Newton, Mike Hutchinson and Mike Hayward of the Alton Rehab Centre cycling group

How cycling helps heart attack victims rebuild their lives

Cycling has helped Mike Hutchinson rebuild his life after he suffered a heart attack seven years ago. Mike is a member of the Alton Cardiac Rehab cycling group in Hampshire, which celebrates its first birthday next month. Tony Upfold, Cycling UK’s Communications and Media Officer, joined the group’s first ride of 2017 to find out more about the vital role it plays in the local community.

Alton Cardiac Rehab is a charity dedicated to helping improve the heart health, fitness and wellbeing of individuals with, or at risk of developing, heart disease.

It was the first community cardiac rehabilitation centre in the country, founded 41 years ago thanks to the foresight of local GP Hugh Bethell, who has now retired from practice but is still a Trustee of the charity and occasionally rides with the cycling group.

Cycling UK member Mike Hutchinson was among those taking part in the first ride of the year in mid-March – a 13-mile loop in glorious sunshine from the Alton Cardiac Rehab centre in Chawton Park Road through the rolling Hampshire hills, passing Jane Austen’s former home along the way. Mike, who lives in nearby Four Marks, had two stents put in following his heart attack in 2010, when he lived in Dubai.

He said: “I got involved with the rehab cycling group when it started last year. I used to run but cannot do that any more as I just haven’t got the legs for it. For me, cycling is a perfect opportunity to get a certain level of fitness.

“Generally, I try to get out cycling at least four times a week – a couple of times on my own and a couple of times with the rehab group and Cycling UK Alton. It is such good exercise and something you can do at your own pace.”

The led rides help to build confidence and stamina, as well as providing patients with a chance to brush up on their bike skills and increase their awareness of the wonderful array of routes available to cyclists in the local area.

Mike Hayward, former GP, cardiac group Ride Leader and Chairman of Alton Cycling Club

The rehab group’s Ride Leader is retired GP Mike Hayward. Mike, who worked as a partner of Hugh Bethell’s at The Wilson Practice in the town, is a Trustee of the charity – full name Basingstoke & Alton Cardiac Rehabilitation Charity Ltd. He is also Chairman of Alton Cycling Club for good measure.

Mike said: “We began a bike club in April last year and offered guided bike rides to our exercisers [patients become exercisers once they have left the care of the NHS programme], taking them out on planned routes in and around Alton. This provides our exercisers with an added opportunity to improve their heart health through cycling and many have taken up cycling again after not riding their bikes for a long while.

“The led rides help to build their confidence and stamina, as well as providing patients with a chance to brush up on their bike skills and increase their awareness of the wonderful array of routes available to cyclists in and around the local area, which boasts some beautiful countryside. As a result, a substantial number of exercisers now use their bikes more often for general and practical journeys and some have started cycling to the centre.”

To encourage those people, a new cycle storage shelter will soon be installed at the centre, thanks to funding organised by Cycling UK in partnership with My Journey Hampshire.

Mike Hayward said: “We want the cycle storage facility to encourage staff and users of the rehab centre to cycle there on a regular basis, especially with the weather improving as summer approaches.”

I’ve only been cycling over the last year or so through the Alton Cardiac Rehab group, but I find it a marvellous way to get some important exercise and fresh air. I was always a bit nervous about cycling then heard this group was being run with a doctor, Mike Hayward, and felt a lot safer.

Michael Johnston, Alton Cardiac Rehab rider

A third Mike also took part in this month’s opening rehab ride. Michael Johnston, who lives in Alton, had a heart attack five years ago and had three stents fitted. Michael, now retired after a career in engineering, said: “I did a course in the gym here at the rehab centre, which was excellent, but I’m not really a gym person. When I mentioned cycling, my doctor seemed quite enthusiastic.

“I’ve only been cycling over the last year or so through the Alton Cardiac Rehab group, but I find it a marvellous way to get some important exercise and fresh air. I was always a bit nervous about cycling then heard this group was being run with a doctor, Mike Hayward, and felt a lot safer.”

Mike Hayward added: “The Rehab Centre rides start at 10am every Wednesday, with runs of 10-30 miles, tailored to suit who is riding. The whole point of this ride is it is led. You don't have to worry about where to go or mechanical problems, or about being under pressure to ‘keep up’. The convoy sails at the pace of its slowest ship, as they say.”

Also riding with the group were Debbie Newton - who works at the Rehab Centre - and Rosie Lewis, Business Director at The Wilson Practice in Alton and one of the charity’s seven Trustees.

Rosie said: “I’ve been a Trustee at the Rehab Centre for two years and I’m very proud to be a part of it. The charity does fantastic work and the cycling group has proved a great success as part of exercisers’ overall rehabilitation because it is so good for your physical health and mental wellbeing.”

I’m very proud to be a part of it. The charity does fantastic work and the cycling group has proved a great success as part of patients’ overall rehabilitation because it is so good for your physical health and mental wellbeing.

Rosie Lewis, Alton Cardiac Rehab Trustee

Martin Lovell, General Manager of Basingstoke & Alton Cardiac Rehabilitation Charity Ltd, said: “Forty-one years ago, Hugh Bethell identified that post-care for people who’d had heart attacks involved going to sit at home doing nothing and taking it easy. He recognised that the heart is a muscle and needs to be exercised.

“People who had suffered heart attacks pretty much thought that was it - I’m sitting here waiting to die. So Hugh started a six-week programme of exercise, to establish a lifelong exercise and health education.

“The rehab unit started in Alton Sports Centre next door to where we are now. After 15 years more space was needed. The charity was set up in 1992 with the goal of raising enough to build the centre, which happened in 1997. Our rehabilitation programme specifically focuses on providing tailored exercise combined with education about heart disease, diet, stress management and relaxation for cardiac patients.

“In 2009, we also started our own ‘Staywell’ programme for those who haven’t yet developed heart disease but are considered at high risk of doing so.”

The centre, which includes a gym with 21 machines, provides a total of 50 hours of exercise from Monday to Saturday each week. There are 26,000 attendances a year and 700 regular exercisers on the books – figures that Martin Lovell and his team aim to increase.

There are 12 centre staff, most part-time, and eight self-employed fitness instructors who are all BACPR qualified (British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation).

We receive no funding from the NHS, central Government or local authorities. Alton Cardiac Rehab operates thanks to donations, gifts and fund-raising events. Attendees do pay but that only accounts for half of our running costs.

Martin Lovell, General Manager of Basingstoke & Alton Cardiac Rehabilitation Charity Ltd

Martin (pictured below with the cycling group) added: “We host clinics run by the Cardiology team from North Hampshire Hospital in Basingstoke. However, we receive no funding from the NHS, central Government or local authorities. Alton Cardiac Rehab operates thanks to donations, gifts and fund-raising events. Attendees do pay but that only accounts for half of our running costs.”

Cycling UK has helped to support cycling in Alton by working with local schools and organising the donation of dozens of balance bikes for youngsters, as well as trying to set up family rides in the community.

That cycling spirit was in evidence again last Saturday (25 March) when a family-friendly bike maintenance workshop was held at the Alton Community Centre in Amery Street. This was a collaboration event between Alton Buckle Schools Partnerships, Hampshire’s My Journey team through partnership working with Cycling UK, Alton Cycle Club and the Alton Cycling UK member group.

In addition, Alton CC and the local Cycling UK group have organised a Mini Ride on Sunday 9 April which is open to everyone, whatever their age, ability or fitness. A relatively flat, 10-mile ride is planned with a cafe stop halfway, starting from Anstey Park at 10am.

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