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The fact that you were born with a heart defect does not mean that you are not allowed to do sports.

In most cases, sport has as many advantages for people with a congenital heart defect as it does for everyone else - if not more.

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The general Austrian recommendation for physical activity for children states: "For children, physical activity should be about 60 minutes per day. In addition, muscle and bone strengthening training should be carried out about 3 times a day and, if possible, there should also be sport activities to improve coordination and mobility".

But how does that apply to children with congenital heart defects?

For parents, educators and doctors, sport for children with congenital heart defects raises a whole range of questions.

The statement: "Sport and exercise are good for children" is also, or rather especially true for children with congenital heart defects.

There are only a few studies that deal with the topic of sports in children with congenital heart defects. In general, however, these few studies show only positive effects on both the psychomotor development and the physical resilience of the children.

Unfortunately, children with heart diseases are very often wrongfully excluded from physical exertion, school sports and also from participation in various sports activities, either in whole or in part, for a variety of reasons.

In some cases there may of course be justifiable, medically advised restrictions - but even then it is especially important to point out that a ban on sport is not the same as a ban on exercise and therefore the same applies: "exercise is healthy".

In recent years, enough studies have been published which clearly show that in our highly industrialized world, in addition to the common diseases such as high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, lack of exercise has become the new "Killer No. 1". Lack of exercise represents a major cardiovascular risk. In addition, exercise and sport in children is also important for their psychological, social and neuro-motoric development.

It is a sad fact that our children get far too little exercise, and unfortunately this especially also applies to children with congenital heart defects.

The most important measure for all children without exception is therefore: Less television & computer time: A reduction of "screen time" (= time in front of the TV, computer, tablet) reduces the risk of developing excess weight.

Additional information:

The spectrum of different heart defects and especially the severity of one and the same heart defect can be very variable. In addition, there are currently only guidelines for competitive sports for adults.

Physical activities in the different age groups are very complex and different: they range from baby swimming, children's gymnastics, recreational sports to school sports and competitive sports.

Environmental conditions (heat, cold, wind) can also have a significant impact on the physical strain of sports.

Accordingly, general guidelines and recommendations can only be offered as an orientation guide and in no way replace the individual consultation with the paediatric cardiologist.

In general one can say:

  • In the case of completely corrected heart defects, corrected heart defects with only minor residual findings (at the earliest 3 - 6 months postoperatively), or in the case of primarily only minor abnormalities - deviating from normal findings - not requiring surgery, sport is possible without restrictions.
  • In cases of severe restrictions of ventricular function, severe valve narrowing or valve leakage, no major strain/stress should be applied.
  • In the case of findings requiring re-operation, uncorrectable severe heart disease, or severe pulmonary hypertension, only little or no exercise should be attempted.

A rough distinction is made between dynamic and static sports. Dynamic movement involves repeated tensing and relaxing of the muscle with relatively low contraction force. An example of this would be running. In contrast to this, static strain - such as weight-lifting - involves a very high application of force with a significant increase in intramuscular pressure, usually together with a significant increase in blood pressure.

In general, dynamic strains are preferable to static ones.

Especially in the case of aortic valve diseases, aortic isthmus stenosis, dilatation (aneurysm) of the aorta as well as congenital connective tissue diseases (e.g. Marfan syndrome), large static strains should be avoided.

If from a medical perspective no major sporting restriction is necessary, it is in principle possible to take part in the ski course or swim training.

In the case of heart defects that could lead to short-term loss of consciousness, swimming should only be allowed under appropriate supervision.

The risk of sudden cardiac death from congenital heart defects during sport is often overestimated by doctors.

A study from Norway reported that over a 15-year observation period, not a single child with a congenital heart defect died of sudden cardiac death as a result of sport.

Adolescents with heart defects that can lead to syncope (rhythm disturbance, severe aortic valve stenosis) should not participate in sports where a short-term loss of consciousness poses a risk (e.g. swimming, climbing).

Furthermore, it may be necessary to introduce Marcoumar to thin the blood. In this case contact sports and sports with a high risk of injury should be avoided.

Contact sports should also be avoided in the case of implanted pacemakers.

To sum up, it should again be noted: SPORT and EXERCISE are especially important for children with congenital heart defects. Unfortunately, often too little attention is paid to this topic in general. Questions regarding sports activities for children with congenital heart defects should always be discussed with their paediatric cardiologist.

Find your own way
Try out different sports to find out which one you enjoy most. Some people like indoor sports more, others prefer outdoor sports.

Once you find that sports are good for you and you have found some sports that you like and that you feel comfortable with, you will enjoy them even more and can easily incorporate them into your everyday life.

(Source: Herzkinder & Sport, Senior Physician Dr. Christoph Prandstetter, Pediatric Heart Center Linz)