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Exercise and Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)

CHD is a broad term used for a range of conditions that are present at birth and impact the standard functioning of the heart. 


Treatment for each heart condition is different. Some conditions may just need to be monitored compared to serious conditions where open heart surgery or long-term medication is necessary. 



How does exercise help?

Exercise has many benefits for individuals with CHD including:

  • Increased cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength and endurance
  • Improved mental health and quality of life
  • Reduced symptoms of breathlessness and fatigue
  • Help with maintaining a healthy weight


Important things to take into consideration

  • Some individuals with CHD may have almost normal heart structure and function whilst others can have complex abnormalities

  • If you have been sick from your condition, it is important to work with your doctor to achieve full health before beginning an exercise program. Despite this, your cardiologist may actually recommend exercise if you have recently deteriorated or had a procedure

  • It is important to be aware of any symptom changes during exercise including palpitations, chest discomfort/pain, dizziness or feeling generally unwell. In this case, exercise should be ceased immediately and you should let your doctor know

  • Fainting or becoming unconscious during exercise may be a sign of a more serious problem that requires immediate cardiology review. Exercise should be discontinued until an all clear is given by the cardiologist


What type of exercise is best?

Exercise programs should include: 

  • Aerobic exercise to help build lung and heart function
  • Resistance exercise to help build muscle mass, strength and endurance

The intensity and duration of an exercise program will be dependent on your specific situation. Here are some general suggestions:

  • Exercising most days for 20-60 minutes
  • Starting slowly, even with just a few minutes you can improve your fitness
  • Choose activities that you enjoy so you stay motivated


References

Exercise Right. 2022. Congenital heart disease. [online] Available at: <https://exerciseright.com.au/congenital-heart-disease/> [Accessed 7 March 2022].