Exeter University working with Manchester UnitedThe University of Exeter has teamed up with Manchester United for a unique research project that hopes to discover the effects of exercise on the hearts of young people. Footballers from Manchester United’s Academy are having their hearts monitored by Exeter University's state-of-the-art imaging technology to see how the hearts of young people work while exercising.

The partnership plans to investigate fitness levels of three hundred young people, a hundred born with heart conditions, a hundred children and adolescents with healthy hearts and a hundred elite junior athletes from the Manchester United Academy.

The research is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and is designed to help identify the heart performance of different training groups when the heart is working harder. Usually the data produced by the echocardiograms that help doctors see how if the heart is working properly are collected from patients that are not exercising, which makes it more difficult to assess performance and discover any minor abnormalities. I is expected that by researching what happens to the heart when young people exercise the chances of finding abnormalities of will be increased. 

Head of the University of Exeter‘s Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre, Professor Craig Williams, explained:

“This research will provide us with the first ever normative database for the effects of exercise on young hearts. At the moment, we still don’t understand what ‘normal’ looks like. By combining the three groups; elite athletes, normal healthy children and children with diseased hearts, we’ll be able to identify what is abnormal and what is normal.

This research will allow us to better identify how much activity and how often exercise can be taken, as at present clinicians aren’t really sure what advice for children with certain conditions should be prescribed. The findings of this research will be a significant step forward for clinicians as care providers to deliver wellbeing guides for the children with congenital heart disease, their families and carers.  Additionally, the benefits of better understanding the effect of exercise on normal healthy children will help the health service identify and prescribe regimes that help ease treatment burdens for young people with sedentary lifestyles.”

A key aim of the Exeter University collaboration with Manchester United is to identify safe levels of exercise for children with congenital heart disease, as well as to clearly defining the positive health benefits of regular exercise.  The data gathered in this research will also be used to improve screening for cardiac abnormalities in young athletes.

Clinical Lecturer in Paediatric Cardiology Dr Guido Pieles at the Bristol Congenital Heart Centre, said:

“This is a unique study, using the latest technology to image the heart while it’s ‘at work’ during exercise. We hope it will enable us to improve scanning protocols and applications, lead to a more precise and earlier diagnosis of heart function abnormalities and better monitoring of treatment progress in our young patients with congenital heart disease. Our research will also help evaluate the benefits of exercise for the heart in obesity and other conditions caused by increasing sedentary lifestyles and poor diet."

The first stage of the research will test a hundred young  people, forty with healthy hearts, forty with heart problems and forty elite athletes from the Manchester United Academy.  The three hundred cross group tests and findings will be completed by 2016.

Dr Dave Perry Academy Doctor at Manchester United, said:

“Our players at the Academy have been offered an amazing opportunity to receive a most comprehensive screening of their cardiovascular (CVS) health. The screening process offered by Toshiba Medical Services in conjunction with the Bristol Heart Institute and University of Exeter’s Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre will give a novel way of ensuring that they have no identifiable cardiac issues.”

The project, led by the Bristol Heart Institute at the University of Bristol together with partners Toshiba Medical Systems, Bristol’s Clinical Research and Imaging Centre (CRICBristol), the University of Exeter‘s Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre and Manchester United, will identify the healthy limits and the wider benefits of exercise for young elite athletes, normal healthy children and children with congenital heart defects.

Read more University News