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Manchester United’s rising stars revolutionize heart health

A unique research project to identify the effects of exercise on young hearts has been announced on Wednesday 28th January 2015. ’s Academy players are being put through their paces having their hearts monitored by the newest imaging technology to give invaluable insights into how young people’s hearts work while doing exercise.

The project, led by the Bristol Heart Institute at the University of Bristol together with partners , 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 .

The research partnership, the first of its kind, will investigate the fitness levels of 300 children whilst exercising, when the heart is working harder. Participants are made up of 100 children born with heart conditions, 100 healthy children and adolescents and 100 elite junior athletes from the Manchester United Academy.

The research, supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will help to identify heart performance of the different groups under stress, to help with better identification of abnormalities, which sometimes do not present themselves at rest. At the moment, echocardiograms in children have traditionally been used while patients are at rest, making it more difficult to assess heart performance and mild functional abnormalities. This study will monitor heart function at rest and during maximum exercise while simultaneously assessing exercise capacity and performance as well as lung function in a time efficient manner in a single setting.

The first stage of the research collaboration early this year will test 40 children with , 40 normal healthy children and 20 elite athletes, with the 300 cross group tests and findings will be completed by 2016.

Testing on elite youth athletes is already underway at Manchester United. Elite athletes at Manchester United’s Academy train in a professional environment for between ten and 12 hours every week and it is important to assess progress and performance but also define healthy exercise quantities to optimize each athlete’s potential.

The overall aim of the project is to more precisely identify the safe levels of exercise for children with congenital heart disease, as well as to clearly define the positive benefits that regular exercise delivers to normal healthy children over time. Additionally, data from the young athletes will be used to improve screening protocols for cardiac abnormalities in young athletes. The exercise and performance data will benefit the club and the young athletes as it aims to help optimize performance and individual training programmes based on exact physiological requirements and limits.