children exercising

by Andrew W. Hoyer, M.D.

Most children with congenital heart disease (CHD) will go on to lead normal healthy lives. Often, the condition is well-managed or corrected, even permanently. But what should parents do in regards to their child's activity levels?

While most recreational physical activity is safe for most children born with congenital heart disease, there is no one right answer for what is best for everyone. Just as CHD describes a wide variety of cardiac health issues, the best approach to physical activity in your child is varied as well.

In some cases, the level of activity the child takes on needs to be monitored or kept to a minimum (such as those with heart rhythm disorders). But rather than focusing on what can't be done, think about what your child can do.

Physical activity is recommended just like it would be for any other child: not just for the sake of enjoyment and "acting like a kid," but as a way of improving cardiac function and reducing the problems that come with inactivity.

That’s a point that needs to be emphasized: children with CHD are just as susceptible to health issues related to a sedentary lifestyle. So moderate exercise is important for children with CHD to maintain a healthy weight and a strong heart.

Depending on how severe the case of CHD is, children may be told they should avoid strenuous sports activities. Endurance sports are more likely to be given approval, while contact sports are not. Medical testing and monitoring your child will give a much clearer picture.

The bottom line is this: exercise is important for everyone. Young people with congestive heart conditions are no different. As long as they are given medical clearance and take appropriate precautionary measures, parents should encourage their children not only to be active, but to enjoy all the physical and emotional benefits that come with being involved in exercise.

For more information, check out the AHA Scientific Statement.