Parents of children with congenital or acquired heart conditions who have been cleared to exercise are often concerned about safety. And this concern is justified because strenuous physical activities, such as running and soccer, may not be the safest choices for a child with a heart condition.
Exercise is a crucial component of protecting against obesity, and even children with heart conditions are not immune to this problem. Luckily, many less-strenuous activities deliver the health benefits without involving sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
“Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and many children with heart conditions may exercise safely,” Dr. Chang says. “Additionally, exercise can be an important diagnostic tool to monitor how well the child is doing. If a child cannot exercise as much or starts showing symptoms, this may indicate the heart is not doing as well.”
Additionally, these less-intense exercises include several that the entire family may enjoy doing together. Several activities are often recommended for patients who have been cleared for exercise:
Every child’s heart is different. Pediatric cardiologists and pediatricians use several types of tests and assessments before clearing a patient for exercise, including an electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram and, in children older than age 7, exercise stress testing.
Once a child is cleared for exercise, parental or adult supervision is highly recommended. Ideally, there should be someone there who is trained to perform CPR and can operate an automated external defibrillator (AED) should the need arise.
A child should immediately stop an activity if the following symptoms occur:
• Chest pain
• Unusual fatigue
“It is always a good idea to have someone there who is trained to perform CPR and use an AED,” Dr. Chang says. “That’s not just for the child with the heart condition, but for everyone. No one can predict who will experience sudden cardiac arrest.”
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