Exercise Restrictions for Children with Heart Conditions

Many children with heart conditions go on to lead healthy lives, but living with these conditions can also come with restrictions on the length and types of exercising they can perform. If your child has a heart condition, here is what you need to know about their exercise restrictions.

How Strict are the Exercise Restriction Guidelines

Pediatric cardiologists are required to share the exercising guidelines that parents and patients need to know. However, these guidelines don’t have concrete statistics to support them and will be more applicable to certain conditions than others.

In many doctor’s eyes, the guidelines are just that, and they shouldn’t be considered as strict rules. Your family should pursue a shared decision discussion with your child’s physician about how strictly or loosely your child needs to follow these. You should also discuss the risks of not being active and should all make a collective decision together about what’s best for your child’s condition.

When Should Your Child Exercise Caution

When a patient is engaging in physical activity, they need to be self-aware and watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Skipped heartbeats
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling winded

If they do start to feel any of these symptoms, they need to slow or stop exercise and report the symptoms to their cardiologist. However, whether they’re exercising at home or school, there needs to be an emergency action plan put into place.

Robert M Campbell, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and director of Project S.A.V.E., cannot express the importance of this action plan for when anyone, child or adult, goes into cardiac arrest. “It’s important for everyone to understand the risks factors or warning signs of cardiac arrests, especially when you’re around children with heart conditions. I’d go as far to say that just like a fire drill, there needs to be an emergency action plan for when someone goes into cardiac arrest.”

Is All Exercise Ruled Out?

The simple answer to this is no. Dr. Campbell says, “Once the right diagnosis and treatment are established, most importantly, we want the patient to be safe, but we also want him/her to be active.” Conditioning activities would be best for these kids, ranging from golfing and swimming to walking and participating in competitive sports in different ways (such as a team manager).

Any participation sport is acceptable for these kids to be a part of, but competition sports typically push kids harder. These kinds of sports need to be practiced with caution,” explains Dr. Campbell.

The Importance of Nutrition

Along with exercising with caution, children with heart conditions also need to be conscious of their nutrition. Since long, extraneous exercise is not always possible for these kids, about 35% of all patients with heart conditions are obese. “If you have a heart condition, you need to do anything possible to minimize cardiac arrest, including your nutrition. Poor diet can lead to higher cholesterol, blood pressure, and many other factors that rely on your heart,” Dr. Campbell says. Sibley Heart Center Cardiology has a speciality program and nutritionist on staff, and you can learn more about our preventative hypertension program here.

Children with heart conditions can live a full, long life just like their friends, but they do need to be cautious about their health when it comes to exercise. As long as your child and family follow the shared decision of what’s best for him/her, they can have fun while being safe.