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How I used outdoor gyms to rehabilitate after open heart surgery


You hear about cases of sudden death in healthy, young people in their 20s and 30s, and the mind reels, so just imagine what it’s like to be told you could have been one of them. After discovering a heart defect at the age of 29, Guy Heywood had open heart surgery which took place in mid November 2013. Putting that into context, doctors said he wouldn’t have survived until Christmas without it.

Seemingly fit and active, the warning signs had been subtle and the surgery had no guarantee of survival, but it wasn’t as simple as being told he needed an operation and bowing to the greater knowledge of his surgeon. Along with it came the added complication of a choice between the surgery he could have, a choice which would impact the rest of his life, however long that may be.

Two years later and Guy is fit, healthy and living life to the full… in fact he’s the fittest he has ever been, not least of all to rehabilitation and training that he decided to do using the urban infrastructure in London. With a new sense of life, he has written his story Free to Choose
and published it online with the aim of helping other people come to terms with personal choices and circumstances…

“After my surgery there was obviously a prolonged period of recovery, but it started quite early on and with small physio exercises. Within a matter of days however I had been encouraged to start walking a little, and as I was home from hospital within four days I tried to do this by walking a few steps (a little further every day) along my street in Hackney.

As I noticed my general wellbeing improve and I was feeling stronger I remembered how good it felt to do some sort of physical activity. I felt energised by my rehabilitation programme, and I had started to ride my bike to and from each session along the canal. I continued to do my programme at home more and more, and then started to ride my bike more and more as well, so I could feel how getting the legs moving was bringing life back to the muscles.

I decided to pursue this further than the normal stretching and minimal exertion. I wanted to embrace this ‘feeling good’ vibe I had and carry it forward with me. I cannot remember the exact date after the operation when I started to train but it is very important to know that I only did it when it felt right to. I was in tune with my body and how it communicated with me.

I worked out a simple routine based from my boxing training to build up strength and body tone just using my own body weight. I decided the local park was a good place to start as there are bars everywhere and I enjoyed being outside. I am not a fan of most gym environments and wanted to build up strength in my own confidence, physically and mentally, without feeling self conscious (surrounded by mirrors in an enclosed environment), so the parks were great for this.

I found a wonderful sense of joy being outside breathing the air and feeling the space around me. I grew up in the Devon countryside so any excuse to get outside in the city’s parks was welcomed.

I used the bars in my local park to start a routine of pull ups, both front and back, and then the lower bars for triceps. I took my yoga mat with me to also use the area around the bars for press-ups and crunches, making full use of being outside in an urban park.

Starting to introduce a new training routine outside and making use of the available space around me not only felt more enjoyable but also made me more aware of the great outside spaces in London and to make more use of them.

I went away on an extended holiday throughout Australia, Thailand and Cambodia at the beginning of this year and continued my training and making use of the outside space where I was which had worked so well in London.

Australia was particularly well set up for this, like the London parks, with many areas hosting different equipment set out to use. I had to be more inventive in Thailand and Cambodia, making use of the outside space, using a tree for example as a pull up prop.

If I hadn't started making use of the spaces around London, I wouldn’t have carried it on whilst I was away and thus had the impetus to train on the famous cliff walk around Sydney and various locations throughout Australia Thailand and Cambodia.”

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