Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsWelcome. My name's Dr Natasha Barrett, and I'm a lecturer at the University of Reading, and also the lead educator for Heart Health, a beginner's guide to cardiovascular disease. Over the next four weeks, we'll be exploring the structure and function of the cardiovascular system and some of the diseases that affect it. We will also be looking at the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, that increase the likelihood of the person developing them, and the ways that people can try to slow down or prevent them from occurring.

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 secondsSo by the end of this course, you should have developed a better understanding of the structure and function of the cardiovascular system, and understanding of the basis of several cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and hypertension. You should understand some of the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, and the ways that these could be used to predict or calculate the likelihood of a person developing cardiovascular disease, and also the lifestyle choices or modifications that people can make to try and slow the process down.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 secondsYou'll also gain several skills, such as the ability to apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations, the ability to analyse and process data, the ability to research a topic and question the reliability of your sources, and of course you'll develop communication skills through sharing your ideas and discussing them without others. It's likely that you know someone who's been affected by cardiovascular disease, perhaps a member of the family or friend. The risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases with ageing, and ultimately 1 in 3 of us is expected to die from it. Cardiovascular biology is an important area of research at the University of Reading, and we're lucky to have many experts in the field.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsThese experts work in a variety of different buildings and departments across our campus, such as the School of Biological Sciences, Reading School of Pharmacy, and the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences. But they come together as members of the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research. We'll have a chance to meet some of the members of the Institute, and I'll meet the expert activities. And we'll find out about their research, what motivates them, and what it's like to be a scientist. This course is designed for beginners, that is anyone with an interest in cardiovascular biology.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 secondsPeople who already have some or lots of knowledge of cardiovascular biology may also find the course interesting, but they should bear in mind that it is designed for beginners. We'll be starting in Week 1, where we introduce the structure and function of the cardiovascular system. In Weeks 2 and 3, we start looking at some of the cardiovascular diseases. And in Week 4, we look at the risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing cardiovascular disease, and the ways that people can try to slow down or prevent the process occurring. Much of the material for this course has been adapted from our undergraduate modules.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 secondsAs such, this gives you a taste of what it would like to study at Reading. Each week follows a similar structure, so you have the option of either following the material from start to finish, or dipping into the bits that most interest you. Each week begins where we start with a series of short videos, where the experts discuss a topic to cover the theory. You then have the option of carrying out a home practical. These are practicals that you can carry out in your kitchen at home. Alternatively, you may prefer to just watch the videos of the practicals instead. Practical work aims to apply the theory that you've already learned, and this helps deepen your level of understanding.

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 secondsPractical work is also the part our students often enjoy the most. As well as practical work, you also have the option of exploring some subjects in much more detail, through the research, evaluating and share activities. In these activities, we will give you fake newspaper headlines, and you have to decide if you believe the hype or not. Information surrounds us, and the ability to pick out or question the reliability of your information sources is a skill that our students learn, and it's one that you'll practise here.

Skip to 4 minutes and 32 secondsOne of the great things about learning online is the ability to share your ideas and discuss them with others on the discussion boards, or they will try to answer as many comments and questions as possible. This won't always be feasible due to the large numbers of people enrolled on the course. Peer learning or learning from others helps both the student learner and the student teacher, so do try to answer each other's questions, to try and help move the whole group forwards. When responding to each other's comments and questions, remember that some of our participants are beginners, so do try to be gentle in your responses.

Skip to 5 minutes and 8 secondsFinally, each week you have the option of taking a quiz to see how you're getting on. These quizzes aren't marked, but they are useful in guiding where you might want to spend more time reviewing a subject. For those of you who are really keen, there are then also further resources and additional activities that you can carry out. I hope that you enjoy both this course and finding out about cardiovascular research at the University of Reading. I look forward to teaching you over the next four weeks and interacting with you in the discussions.

Welcome to the course

Welcome to Week 1 of ‘Heart Health: a Beginner’s Guide to Cardiovascular Disease’. We are very happy to have you on board and hope you will benefit from learning about the heart and how it works in various states of health.

This video will introduce you to the topics we’ll be covering over the next four weeks. If you’re new to FutureLearn, why not familiarise yourself with the How it works section.

Week 1 - Cardiovascular anatomy and physiology

We’ll start by exploring the anatomy and function of blood and the circulatory system. We will then look at the anatomy of the heart and how it works. There’s an optional practical exercise you can do at home which involves dissecting a lambs heart (you can purchase one from the butcher’s). If, however, you’re squeamish, we cover everything you need to know within the main teaching videos. We’ll also introduce the food and activity diary which we hope you will use throughout the course, as we will be comparing the data collected to UK statistics based on levels of risk of cardiovascular disease.

Week 2 - Angina, heart attacks and strokes

In the second week we’ll start to look at some of the problems that occur in the cardiovascular system. There will be a demonstration of blood clotting and a home practical investigating the effects of thrombosis using jelly and balloons.

Week 3 - Heart failure, hypertension, valvular disease and arrhythmia

In Week 3, we’ll find out what happens to the heart when it has become weak. There’s a practical exercise for you to try out at home to gain a better understanding of heart failure. We will also look at other irregularities in the function of the heart.

Week 4 - Risk, factors and prevention

Having learnt about what a healthy heart and a diseased heart is, in the final week we’ll take a look at the various factors that affect heart health, such as age, genes and cholesterol. We’ll also look at the benefits of a well balanced diet and physical activity for maintaining a healthy heart and look at how your food and activity diary can be used to keep track and understand patterns in your own life. We will also compare your collected data to that of UK statistics based on levels of risk of cardiovascular disease, should you wish to.

Getting started

Over the next few steps, you can find out more about the ‘Heart health’ team, teaching components of the course and how to use the FutureLearn platform to maximise your learning experience.

We’d also be grateful if you could complete the pre-course survey to help us understand more about who’s taking the course and what we can do to improve it.

If you are mentioning the course on social media remember to tag comments with #FLHeartHealth.

Thank you again for joining us, enjoy the course!


Cardiovascular biology is an important area of research at the University of Reading. The Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research brings together experts from a variety of different departments across the University, such as the School of Biological Sciences, Reading School of Pharmacy and the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences.

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This video is from the free online course:

Heart Health: a Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease

University of Reading