Physical activity requirements and potential restrictions for your child with a congenital heart defect will vary depending on the form of congenital heart disease, the types of treatments that have been performed, and that child’s developmental needs. As a parent, you will be rightly concerned about the risks of exercise; however, it is also important to balance this against your child’s need for regular physical activity and the health benefits and sense of self and friendships that can form around exercise and activity.
Infants and Toddlers
If your infant or toddler has been diagnosed with congenital heart disease, you should work with the child’s care team to develop a treatment plan. The child’s treating physician will offer guidance on what levels of activity are normal for your child. At this stage of growth, your child’s primary physical activity will involve feeding and achieving developmental milestones. Work with the child’s care team to be sure your infant is receiving enough nutrition to gain weight and achieve age-appropriate developmental milestones at an appropriate pace.
Children and Teens
Again, the amount of physical activity that is appropriate for your child will depend on the form of congenital heart disease and therapeutic interventions that have been performed. While some children will have activity restrictions, most children with congenital heart disease will be able to lead typical, active lives. Your child may be advised to avoid activities that can cause acute elevations in blood pressure, such as weight lifting or strenuous physical exertion, or impact sports, such as football or boxing. Additionally, if your child is taking blood thinners, this may affect which physical activities are suitable.
Before your child participates in sports or physical education classes, discuss the safety of these activities with your child’s treating cardiologist. If activity restrictions are appropriate, be sure that your child’s school and any athletic coaches are aware of the guidelines.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Physical Activity for Children with Congenital Heart Disease
The following questions can help you talk to your child's physician. Print out or write down these questions and take them with you to your appointment. Taking notes can help you remember your physician’s response when you get home.
- Is my infant gaining enough weight considering his or her heart disease? Is there anything that I should do to improve my infant’s nutrition?
- What are the developmental milestones my infant or toddler should be reaching and at what age?
- What types of physical activities are safe for my child or teenager?
- What, if any, activities should my child or teenager avoid?
- Are there any warning signs that I should be looking for when my child is engaged in physical activity?
- What do I need to tell my child’s school or coach about his or her congenital heart disease?
- Are there any tests or treatments that should be performed before my child engages in physical activity?