Traditionally, being diagnosed with a congenital heart disease (CHD) meant a lifetime of restrictions — both emotional and physical. Patients were advised to be wary of physical activity and to lower expectations about their physical potential.
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But in its recently released and updated recommendations, the American Heart Association made a dramatic change by giving CHD patients the official OK to engage in physical activity
The changes are dramatic, and cardiologist and Director, Cleveland Clinic Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center, Richard Krasuski, MD, is enthusiastic about the implications. “This is an ‘exciting step forward,’ so to speak…Historically, doctors told such patients not what they could do, but scared them by telling them what they couldn’t do.”
Movement benefits everyone
Physical exercise is good for the population in general, and people with CHD are no different, says the American Heart Association (AHA).
No extensive studies currently exist on physical activity and its effect on patients with CHD. So, the AHA made its recommendations based on studies for the non-CHD population, and on the well-proven knowledge that being sedentary, or not moving, increases the risk for many chronic health problems including diabetes, obesity, depression and cancer.
Typically, patients with CHD are less physically active than the general population, and inactivity adversely affects health. Dr. Krasuski explains, “We see more obesity and metabolic syndrome in this group than in the general population.”
More good things, fewer bad things
Movement is healthy in many ways. Moderate and sustained activity promotes a healthy vascular system, improves mood and self-esteem and boosts the immune system, which helps ward off illness.
The AHA cites current recommendations: Ideally, men and women should get 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. The AHA also stresses what to avoid, such as sitting for extended periods of time.
Dr. Krasuski says, “I usually tell patients that I encourage regular activity. If they are inactive, then I like to push them to start walking regularly for exercise. If they have been through recent surgery or interventional procedures, we will get them into a cardiac rehab program.”
Moderation and setting reasonable goals
Physicians tailor the amount and type of activity for each person based on medical history and current treatment.
“The key is always to start slowly and to build up endurance, with the goal of light to moderate exercise for 30 minutes three to five times weekly. Obviously these are not ‘one size fits all’ recommendations and we adapt this to each individual,” concludes Dr. Krasuski.