2022 has been a special year for the team and whole community at the Basingstoke and Alton Cardiac Rehabilitation Charity – more fondly known as Cardiac Rehab – as they celebrated 25 years of the Cardiac Rehab Centre next to Alton Sports Centre.

In the final Peeps column of 2022, we thought we’d take a look at their history, how things have changed and what is next for this remarkable jewel in Alton’s crown.

In 1976, local GP Dr Hugh Bethell, together with physiotherapist Sally Turner, started to offer cardiac rehabilitation sessions in Alton Sports Centre.

These sessions supervised and monitored the performance of post-operative patients on a course of graduated exercise. Early results were encouraging and medical practices in surrounding areas started to refer patients to ‘Cardiac Rehab’.

Cardiac Rehab’s reputation soon spread and within two years Basingstoke Hospital began regularly to refer cardiac patients.

Taking a research-based approach, the team learned from studying the changes in fitness achieved, adjusting the course of tailored exercise, and then combining it with education about heart disease, diet, stress management and relaxation – a recipe for success that is still in place today.

Since its opening, Cardiac Rehab has been a leader in its field, but it is not a part of the NHS. It was the first community-based cardiac rehabilitation unit in the UK and its example has been followed widely.

Members of the Cardiac Rehab team helped to increase the provision of units across the country and were instrumental in the founding of the British Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation in 1992, now known as the BACPR, which is the industry body for cardiac rehabilitation in the UK.

The findings from the Cardiac Rehab team and others showed that regular and appropriate exercise was crucial in speeding up recovery times and the practice of ‘cardiac rehab’ was taken up by hospitals up and down the country.

With referrals coming from Basingstoke Hospital, Frimley Park, Winchester and even further afield, the team eventually outgrew the space at the sports centre and work began to fundraise for a new, dedicated Cardiac Rehab building.

In 1997, after a huge local fundraising effort which totalled more than £400,000 (more than £720,000 in today’s money), the Cardiac Rehab Centre was opened.

The move to its own building enabled Cardiac Rehab to expand its operations. In 2009, in the light of growing evidence that exercise was better than cure, they introduced the preventative Staywell Programme to help those most at risk of developing heart disease look after their heart. More recently, falls prevention exercise and Long Covid rehabilitation programmes have been developed.

Many things have changed over the past 25 years, not least the sophistication of the exercise machines on offer and the technology used to monitor heart rate activity.

Exercisers now have real-time heart rate monitoring and comparison with safe target heart rates for their situation. And the team are part of a trial of cancer ‘pre-habilitation’ as pre-op preparation for some cancer patients.

The fundraising team at the charity have raised more than £200,000 through their 25th anniversary appeal, the culmination of which was the gala dinner on October 9 at the Frensham Pond Hotel with special guest speaker Roger Black MBE.

These funds are being used to refurbish the Rehab Centre – including installing solar panels, new showers, replacing gutters and an accessible front door – to ensure it remains fit for purpose at the heart of the local community for the next 25 years and beyond.

This is good news because although there has been around a 70 per cent decline in the number of people dying of cardiovascular disease since 1979, heart and circulatory diseases still cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK – that’s one in four people.

So, Alton is very pleased to have its own Cardiac Rehab Centre and a wonderful team to continue the fantastic work that goes on there. See www.cardiac-rehab.co.uk