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A heart in your hands: practical exercises revealed for ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Cardiovascular Disease’

Cardiovascular disease affects so many of us – in fact, coronary heart disease is the single biggest killer in the UK and around the world. Here, the Heart Health team at the University of Reading, explain how their free online course “Heart Health: A Beginner’s Guide to Cardiovascular Disease” will help you get a handle on the subject.

A model of a heart

We created this course to help people to understand the structure of the heart and how it works, before shedding some light on how some of the most common diseases of the heart and circulatory system affect this. We’ll also be exploring some of the factors that can put you at risk of heart disease and what can be done to prevent them.

At Reading, we have some world-class experts in heart disease at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research. Their contributions are a major part of this course, but we were conscious that watching the experts explain how your heart and cardiovascular system work can only go some way to helping you understand the topic. That’s why we decided that we needed to find ways for you to get hands-on; to see the science first hand and make a bit of mess in the process!

Getting hands-on

We’ve developed a practical exercise for each of the four weeks that can easily be done at home. They’re optional, so if you don’t have the time to do them, or would rather not, you can still complete the course. But if you’re keen to take your learning further, there are detailed instructions and video guides that will help you to put your new knowledge into practice.

Practical exercises for each week

We’ll go in at the deep end in the first week by doing a heart dissection. Hearts are pretty easy to pick up at your local butcher’s or supermarket and seeing one first-hand will give you a great understanding of what’s happening inside your own body when your heart beats – which happens around 100,000 times a day!

In Week 2, we’ll look at how blood clots and the home practical will demonstrate what happens in the body when someone suffers from a thrombosis. We’ll be using jelly and balloons to investigate what happens, so you might want to pick up some ice-cream too and have a little party! Just remember to follow the health and safety guidelines for the experiment so you don’t pick up anything nasty.

The third week’s exercise will help you to understand what happens when the heart fails. The heart is a pump and we’ll use a push down soap dispenser to mimic this.

Keeping a food and activity diary

Throughout the course you’ll also have the opportunity to keep a diary of your food intake and physical activity. In the final week, we’ll demonstrate how to analyse the data you collect in your diaries and use this to understand how your food and activity levels compare to the UK average and the potential effect this might have on your own risk of developing cardiovascular disease. You’ll also have the chance to investigate some of the lifestyle choices that may slow down or prevent cardiovascular diseases from occurring.

We’re really looking forward to welcoming you on the course and hope that you’re looking forward to learning more about your heart, how it works and what happens when things go wrong. You can find out more about the course and meet the team behind it in the videos below:

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