People with heart defects can, and should, play sport

Although parents, teachers and sometimes even medical professionals often restrict the exercise of a child, teenager or adult with congenital heart disease, sporting activities can actually contribute to the general fitness level, wellbeing and overall quality of life. Insufficient exercise can, on the other hand, lead to motor deficiencies and make you feel marginalised and isolated from your peers. The number of Europeans prevented from doing sports varies substantially between countries. In Germany, Norway and Sweden, for example, the policy is to apply as few restrictions as possible.

Why sport is so important to you

Sport substantially improves most people’s quality of life, which is why adults with a congenital heart disease should be encouraged to exercise whenever possible. This approach is embraced in some European countries, such as Germany and Scandinavia, however in many other parts of Europe there are strict to moderate restrictions on the amount of sport that congenital heart disease patients can participate in.

Tailored recommendations

Whether you are declared healthy enough to participate in sport or not should be based on the results of the postoperative examination, not the severity of the heart defect. To assess one’s cardiological status, a special classification system has been developed and approved by the German Association for Prevention and Rehabilitation (DGPR) and other expert committees. Since diagnosis and residual results vary, recommending specific sports types to everyone with a congenital heart disease does not seem appropriate. Everyone should be advised what type of exercise (dynamic strain is generally more advisable than static strain) to avoid, emphasising those that they are allowed to do.

Why isn’t everyone allowed to play sport?

Patients with congenital heart disease should generally be allowed to participate in almost any type of sport. However, there are some exceptions:

  • The heart defect is so severe that sport must be forbidden because physical activity could put their life in danger. This course of action is necessary only in exceptional cases and should not be a result of over protection.
  • The heart defect allows only partial participation in sport because of the heart’s inability to adapt to physical strain. For example, taking anticoagulant drugs is incompatible with contact sports such as rugby. Additionally, wearing a pacemaker is incompatible with extreme stretching such as exercising on a hanging bar.

Whether people with congenital heart disease can play sport is a personal choice. The motto should always be “allow sport as much as possible, restrict sport no more than necessary”.

Author(s): Marit Haugdahl
Last updated: 2009-08-17

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Comments on this article

20.02.2010 | Julia Kresse, Deutschland
hallo an alle,

ich habe auch einen schweren herzfehler. mein arzt ist im moment mit mir sehr zufrieden. ich mache auch sport in der schule mit und gehe privat auch noch mit einer freundin badminton spielen. das macht mir auch sehr viel spaß. ich bin zwar eingeschränkt, aber ich mache nur immer so viel, wie mein herz kann und auch so viel, wie ich kann.
lg julia
26.06.2010 | silvana yamauchi, argentina
el deporte es salud, creo que siempre hay que estimular la actividad fisica consciente, y sobre todo en personas con cardiopatias congenitas, el deporte auyenta los temores y alimenta la confianza, creo que siempre es buena estar en movimiento.
06.05.2011 | Jonathan Toze, Australia
My daughter was born with a complex congenital heart defect, with Double Outlet right ventricle, Severe VSD, TGA, and total heart block, but in spite of these limitations, she wishes to compete competitively at national levels in many sports. Sadly the system is against her, and she in most cases has to compete against abled body children. She has recently been accepted as a "undefined" disability in the school sport program here in Australia, and shortly will now compete at the National level. We are pretty sure that she is the first CHD child to compete in the national competition. She has obtained nothing but joy and positive energy for her being able to participate in sport. She listens to her body, and lives life as a fit and healthy child.
10.03.2012 | Ramon Fimbres., Mexico. Hermosillo.Sonora
Tengo 33 años y me diagnosticaron cardiopatia severa y siempre e sido una persona atletica me gusta realizar ejercicios mas q deporte. Muchas personas me dicen q no debo hacer ningun clase de ejercicios por lo q me hacen sentir una persona incapacitada pero mi voluntad es mas grande realizo ejercicio moderado y me sieento con mas energia y me da valor para enfrentar mi enfermedad. Hechenle ganas amigos nada es imposible.
10.03.2014 | Maureen Muir, Scotland
My son was born with VSD and has undergone open heart surgery. He couldn't take part in sport for the first year of school due to shortness of breath and shear panick from the physical education department at school. Now 12 and in the first year of senior school he has just won a silver medal at the Scottish schools swimming championships. He has come a long way. Sport plays a massive part in his live, he is aware of his body and will take time out if needed. He just lives life to the full and is an inspiration to everyone around him..