By Tiffany White

Ashley Dones, 26, handles her heart cautiously but doesn’t miss out on the rhythm of life. She was born with congenital heart disease and has to be careful about her level of physical activity.

At age 15, she had open heart surgery and will need to have another surgery depending on the future condition of her heart. Ashley’s previous doctor encouraged her to stop taking pure barre classes and said she couldn’t do any type of exercise outside of jogging. She didn’t want to jeopardize her health, but she wasn’t willing to let heart disease stop her from doing the things she loves.

Ashley got a second opinion from an adult congenital heart specialist who told her that she could workout safely without as many limitations. Her friend Alex, who is an occupational therapist with a background in fitness, created different workouts for Ashley, and they began exercising together last year. “She helped me formulate my own plan and figure out how to get it cleared with my cardiologist. I can do squats and lunges. I just have to listen to my body and know when to stop,” she says. Ashley uses the Kayla Itsines BBG fitness program, which is based on building resistance and strength. The workouts become increasingly challenging, but Ashley has already completed five months of the program and considers it a huge accomplishment. “The program is extremely challenging but so rewarding at the same time, so I feel like a wonder woman for getting as far as I have in the program,” she says.

Read more about Ashley and other heart situations in the Today’s Woman Heart Supplement.

Photo by Melissa Donald