Playing sport makes a difference

Gerti G. /

Just because you have a congenital heart defect doesn’t mean you can’t play sport. In most cases, people with heart defects get just as many benefits out of exercise as everyone else – and a few more besides!

Sport matters

Parents, teachers and sometimes even medical professionals often restrict the exercise of people with congenital heart disease. Don’t let them! Although there are a few exceptions where restriction is necessary, for most people with congenital heart disease exercise is perfectly safe. Sporting activities can actually improve your health, fitness levels, wellbeing and overall quality of life. Whereas, if you don’t join in you can feel left out and different from your friends.

Most teenagers with congenital heart disease can take part in almost any sport but make sure you check with your cardiologist first as there may be some restrictions.

Which sport can I play?

There are no general rules on which sports you can play and which you can’t. It depends on the results of an examination, not the severity of your heart defect. Diagnosis and physical capacity vary a lot from person to person and so there may be some sports that aren’t right for you but are for others. It also depends on how intensively you play sport. Your cardiologist will be able to advise you.

A few exceptions:

  • Avoid playing sports, if your heart defect is very severe and physical activity could put your life in danger. For example if there is a risk of fainting, severe arrhythmia or sudden death. That could be the case for diagnoses like Long QT syndrome (LQTS), certain forms of cardiomyopathy and Marfan syndrome.
  • Be careful, if your heart is unable to adapt to physical strain. For example, taking anticoagulant drugs is incompatible with contact sports such as rugby because the risk of injury (bleeding) is high.
  • Wearing a pacemaker is incompatible with extreme stretching such as exercising on a hanging bar since the devices or wires could be damaged.
  • Avoid playing sport at extreme temperatures. When you go swimming, water that is too cold can be problematic. It’s always good to enter cold water slowly, so that your body can get used to the temperature.

If you are at all unsure, check with your cardiologist.

Do it your way!

Try out different sporting activities to find out what you like. Some people love the gym while others are fans of the great outdoors.

Understanding why exercise is good for you and finding activities that you like and feel comfortable with means you’ll enjoy exercising and will keep coming back for more.

Author(s): Marit Haugdahl
Last updated: 2010-10-05

Do you want to tell us about your experiences? Leave a comment on this article.

Comments on this article

01.05.2011 | Anna Rosshagen, Sweden
I have a son with aortastenosis, (operated as a baby but stenosis still remains, waiting for another operationa) who wants to start jogging. He is soon to be 17, wants to do his operation but doctors hesitate. He is in too good shape, all together.

I myself love exersicise and is glad of his interest, but this kind of puls raising exersice feels kind of dangerous. He is on medication, that stops his pulse from raising.

I will suggest to him, to get in contact with a fysiotherapiest at the clinic, but I would very much like an comment from you readers here also. Sepcially other youths with own experiences.
14.09.2011 | Kari Lundin, Sweden
Hi Anna! I´m a 15 year old girl with the same diagnosis as your son. I exercise quite much, I play tennis, I dance and I go out jogging. This is not a problem for me. I advise you to let your son try jogging. If he can´t, it´s better if he has found that out himself. If you tell him not to jogg, he might get angry and think you´re overprotective. So let him try and see if he can.
05.11.2012 | Helena Schmitz, Deutschland

ja ich nehme Bluthemmende Medikamente. Da mir mein Arzt empfohlen hat Ausdauersport zu machen, mache ich liebend gerne Zumba und ich reite auch schon seit langer Zeit. Ich solle keine Sportarten mit hohem Verletzungsrisiko machen wie Fußball, Basketball oder Volleyball. Darum bleibe ich beim Zumba und beim Reiten. Ist mir sowieso lieber.
Viele liebe Grüße
Helena Schmitz