​​Image of Aaron Lal
Keeping fit and active is important patients like Aaron Lal with Adult Congenital Heart Disease. The UHN Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Western Hospital is helping him to reach his fitness goals. (Photo: UHN News)

Aaron Lal strides steadily to the beat of the music as he starts his treadmill workout at the UHN Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Western Hospital's (TWH) Goodlife Fitness Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Unit.

The outpatient program is a combination of education and exercise classes to help patients with heart disease improve their health and reduce their risk of a future heart attack or stroke.

At age 31, he is one of the youngest in the room and not your average patient with heart disease. That's because he was born with congenital heart disease (CHD), a birth defect of the heart. Shortly after he was born, he had open heart surgery at Sick Kids and was among one of the first babies to undergo such a procedure. When Lal turned 19, he became a patient of UHN's Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC).

As part of PMCC, the UHN Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program  (TWH Rehab program and Toronto Rehab's Rumsey Centre work closely with patients with Adult CHD to offer care tailored to meet their needs. All UHN cardiovascular rehab patients, regardless of the heart condition are enrolled in an education and exercise program that consists of:

  • Early education
  • A one-on-one assessment with the interdisciplinary team from the Cardiac Rehab Program
  • Group exercise classes

Our rehab program for patients with CHD is not just about their heart," said

Holly Wykes, registered Kinesiologist. "The focus is about creating a life beyond their heart condition, which means addressing quality of life issues that are impacted by their strength and endurance."

Traditionally, patients with CHD have not been advised to exercise for fear their hearts may not be strong enough. However, new research is showing that this group of patients does in fact benefit both physically and psychologically from exercise.  

Lal started attending cardiac rehab for the first time this month. His goal is to keep active so that he can stay healthy to pursue his passion for working with youth in afterschool programs he has helped develop.

"I really try and use my health challenges to let kids know that it is important to live a healthy lifestyle, not to smoke or drink and to stay active," said Lal. "I really enjoy exercising and for those who find it hard, I would say to try and make it fun."

At the end of the program, there is a graduation class for all the participants. By this point, they are ready to integrate their new regime into their daily life at home and in the community. The support from Goodlife Fitness continues for graduates of the program who wish to keep up their regular workouts at a one of their gyms by offering them a discount on their membership.

"It is very inspiring to watch patients like Aaron go through the program," said Wykes. "They work so hard and are so motivated, we feel it is important that we fully support them as they make such important changes in their life."​

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