Exercising for heart and soul
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Exercising for heart and soul

Alicia Philipatos was three days old when her heart condition was diagnosed

Key takeaways

Alicia Philipatos

Alicia Philipatos was three days old when her heart condition was diagnosed. She endured many hospital visits and treatments as a child, but at age 29, had to face open heart surgery for a valve replacement. During this time, dealing with a roller coaster of emotions, Alicia took to blogging and exercising. In this blog, she talks about the important role exercise continues to play in her life.
As I round the corner and look up ahead, I am astounded by the beauty before me. The tops of the trees are vividly green with sunshine peeking through, the garden beds are alive with colourful florals, there are dragonflies everywhere… and then there’s the patch of uphill gravel that I’m about to tackle. As soon as I reach the bottom of the incline, even though I’ve been running fine for four kilometres already, my head starts with the “oh I think you’ll need a break, you’re feeling tired, you don’t want to push that heart too much… do you?” So about halfway up I stop. I check my heart rate, I pat my dog and then I keep going.

The mental challenges I face are not much different to those faced by any typical runner. Your mind is both your greatest enemy and your closest ally. When you add self-doubt to a heart condition, the ability to make excuses for not pushing yourself during exercise is overwhelming and takes a great deal of training to overcome - both physical and mental.

Before my surgery I was training with kettlebells for approximately two years. I loved seeing the changes in my body and that alone provided me with the motivation to keep going. When I was told my valve was failing and I had my surgery booked in, I was asked to stop weight training. So to keep myself occupied I ran… I even completed a colour run three days before my surgery.

After surgery I had to start all over again, I couldn’t run four kilometres anymore, I couldn’t swim and I could barely lift two kilograms. All I wanted to do in my initial recovery was exercise and get back to the physical form I’d had only two months prior, but I couldn’t…and it was deflating. When life kicked back into gear I was so tired and I couldn’t get motivated.

When I did begin exercising again, I was timid. I allowed myself more breaks than usual, cleared any activity with an Exercise Physiologist or Cardiologist to make sure they thought I was able, and even then, I progressed slowly.

But slow progress is still progress. I downloaded a running app and eased into a five kilometre run over an eight-week period. I started group personal training sessions, and made sure that if I ever felt weak or dizzy, I stopped. Before I knew it, 12 months went by and I shed 10 kilos, I would regularly complete six 30 minute workouts per week, my muscle definition increased and changed the shape of my body, I lowered my resting heart rate and began seeking out new ways to push my body to the next level.

Growing up, exercise was something that was just part of my life; post-surgery, exercise is much more, it’s given me a new level of confidence in my heart (and my body) that I never knew existed within me. When I push myself harder, my body responds with results. It’s powerful, and as I continue to be able to run further and faster, lift heavier, punch harder, breathe, pose and stretch deeper, my mind too becomes stronger. That voice of self-doubt is still there, but she’s drowned out by my trained, powerful voice of self-love.

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. Eat for nourishment and enjoyment, exercise with variety and regularity and I promise you’ll be the happiest, healthiest version of yourself.

You might also be interested in

At the heart of Mother’s Day

At the heart of Mother’s Day

At the heart of Mother’s Day

Three people living with heart disease share how their Mums helped them face their health challenges....

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

Stories of hope from Australian men and women fighting heart disease....

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it. ...

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor...

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril suffered a heart attack in 2015. Cardiac rehab helped get his life back on track. ...

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Dan was six minutes into his treadmill session when his heart stopped beating....

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David's heart failure diagnosis led to significant changes in his life....

Debbie's heart story

Debbie's heart story

Debbie's heart story

Debbie decided to give cardiac rehab a go and hasn’t looked back since. ...

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart attack came without warning....

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

A series of virtual events for young adults on managing emotional wellbeing. ...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter has lived with a rare heart condition since he was 14, but hadn’t given it too much thought until his 30s....

Health professional online learning

Health professional online learning

We offer a number of modules focused on improving cardiovascular care....

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Heart healthy breakfasts to start your day right...

10 steps to protect your heart health

10 steps to protect your heart health

10 steps to protect your heart health

Ready to help your heart keep on beating? Here are 10 important ways to reduce your risk of heart disease for a healthier life.  ...

Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

The Australian Guideline for Prevention, Diagnosis and Management of Acute Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease (2nd Edition)​....

COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

Information and resources for health care professionals....

How your heart works

How your heart works

How your heart works

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. The blood gives your body the oxygen and nourishment it needs to work properly. ...

Western Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance

Western Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance

Western Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance

WACRA are the peak leadership body in Western Australian advancing research into heart, stroke and vascular disease to accelerate translation and improve health outcomes....

How we work

How we work

How we work

One Heart, One Team...

Q&A with Dr Lewan Parker

Q&A with Dr Lewan Parker

Q&A with Dr Lewan Parker

Identifying microvascular dysfunction as a novel mechanism of poor health in heart failure patients....

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Kate wanted to find a way she could make a difference to future generations...

Research funding programs

Research funding programs

Research funding programs

Our research funding supports outstanding researchers who share our vision of an Australia free from heart disease. ...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Chicken recipes

Chicken recipes

Chicken recipes

Find heart healthy chicken recipes....

Supporting SA cardiac patients and health professionals with free resources

Supporting SA cardiac patients and health professionals with free resources

Supporting SA cardiac patients and health professionals with free resources

We want to make it easier for South Australians to lead heart-healthy lives....

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

Healthy Active by Design

Healthy Active by Design

Healthy Active by Design

Improving the design of our cities, towns, streets and buildings makes it easier for Australians to lead heart-healthy lives....

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Thankfully for Grant Byrne, a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan, some quick thinking helped him avoid a stairway to heaven. Read Grant’s heart attack story now. ...

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. ...

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Clinical information for diagnosis and management of hypertension....

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Making philanthropic investments through the Heart Foundation can transform Australians’ health. ...