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May 13, 2013

Physical Activity Important for Children and Adults with Congenital Heart Disease

Individuals with congenital heart disease are encouraged to get active to promote better health later in life.

The American Heart Association recently released a scientific statement that reviewed physical activity guidelines for children and adults living with congenital heart disease—the most common birth defect affecting nearly 1% of all births each year. Individuals with congenital heart disease are often hesitant to participate in regular physical activity for fear that they might push too hard and trigger a cardiac event. However, experts are becoming more and more concerned that avoiding physical activity is harming patients with congenital heart disease more than it is helping. Individuals with congenital heart disease are living longer, healthier lives and most patients live well into adulthood. As a result, it is even more important that patients with congenital heart disease stay active to promote better health down the road.

What are the key points that everyone should know about the statement on physical activity for those with congenital heart disease? Here is a quick overview:

  • Current guidelines recommend that healthy adults get 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week or 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, plus muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. Children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
  • For patients with congenital heart disease, physical activity can be unlimited and should be strongly promoted. Very few conditions restrict activity—mainly abnormal heart rhythms called “arrhythmias.”
  • Children with congenital heart disease have lower levels of physical activity and are more likely to be obese and have other cardiovascular risk factors compared to healthy children. These disparities continue into adulthood.
  • The benefits of physical activity are the same for patients with and without congenital heart disease. Staying active helps improve overall health and reduces risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, cancer and heart disease.
  • Physical activity is not the same as exercise or fitness. Physical activity includes anything that gets you moving, like gardening or cleaning, and these types of activities can add up more than you may think.
  • We need to stress the importance of staying active for patients with congenital heart disease and ensure that patients are given the tools and support needed to increase their physical activity levels.
  • Patients and their doctors need to work together closely to create a physical activity program that is safe for each patient, depending on their specific heart condition.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is it safe for patients with congenital heart disease to exercise?
  • For most patients with congenital heart disease, it’s not only safe but important to stay physically active. Physical activity helps improve heart health and reduces risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, cancer and heart disease. Patients with congenital heart disease should work closely with their providers to create a physical activity program that is safe for them.

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