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Congenital Heart Defects: Exercise and Sports - Topic Overview

Children and adults with congenital heart defects can be active and get regular exercise. Most don't have exercise restrictions. But restrictions on the intensity or type of exercise might be needed depending on the type or severity of the defect.

Being active helps keep your heart and body healthy. So even a person who has restrictions can still exercise within limits. Your doctor can help create a set of activities at a level that is safe and healthy for you or your child.1 Your doctor might also suggest target heart rate goals and limits, how long to exercise, and how often to exercise.2

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Restrictions on exercise

Your doctor can tell you if you or your child should limit activity or sports participation. Limits might be based on the severity and type of heart defect.

Many people with mild or repaired heart defects don't have exercise restrictions. They usually can take part in most types of sport or exercise.

People who have a severe defect, a cyanotic defect, heart pumping problems, or heart rhythm problems might have exercise restrictions. But they can still be active. Their doctors can help create exercise plans to stay healthy and enjoy a good quality of life.

Tests before exercise

Anyone with a heart defect should check with a doctor before starting an exercise or sports program.

Often a stress test EKG (a type of electrocardiogram) is done to find out the effect of exercise on the heart. This test is sometimes done along with a type of echocardiogram to measure how the heart responds to exercise.


Some children who have a heart defect will have an exercise stress test done by the time they are in school. As your child ages and is interested in new sports or more intense exercise, you can review the exercise plan with your child's doctor and make sure that it's still right for your child.


At your regular checkup with your doctor, review your exercise plan to make sure that it fits your life and is safe and healthy for you.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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