Physical Activities For Kids With Congenital Heart Disease To Stay Active

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Kids are usually pretty active by nature. So, as a heart kid parent, it can be tough seeing your child struggle to keep up with his peers because he tires out so easily.

But there are ways to help your heart kiddo stay active. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of creativity.

Here’s what you should know about physical activities for kids with congenital heart disease (CHD).

Why Do Kids With CHD Get Tired So Easily?

Symptoms of congenital heart disease vary, depending on the type and severity, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) explains. But more common symptoms—including rapid breathing, fatigue, and poor circulation—can make getting physical activity difficult for heart kids.

For many children and adults with heart conditions, fatigue is caused by the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the entire body, the American Heart Association (AHA) explains.

Another reason heart kids may get tired so easily is because of their medication. Certain heart medications—like ACE inhibitors taken to open blood vessels and lower blood pressure—can cause fatigue, the National Library of Medicine explains.

How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?

Physical activity is important for all kids, including heart kiddos. Exercise can help them stay in shape, build strong muscles, and develop good balance and coordination.

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If the idea of getting your child moving for an entire hour sounds overwhelming, don’t panic. It may be easier on the both of you to break that activity up into more manageable chunks, like four 15-minute activities throughout the day, the AHA recommends.

What Are Some Physical Activities For Kids With CHD To Get Moving?

Heart kids may enjoy a number of more traditional sports and physical activities that are considered low or moderate intensity:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Dancing
  • Bicycling
  • Yoga

But there are also creative ways to get your kids moving:

  • Duck, duck, goose
  • Red light, green light
  • Jump rope and Double Dutch
  • Capture the flag
  • Musical chairs

Hopscotch

Use sidewalk chalk to map out a fun course for your heart kid to hop through. You may want to get creative and add twists and turns instead of just making a straight line.

Scavenger Hunt

The great thing about scavenger hunts is that they can be done indoors or outside. You can even draw a treasure map and make the hunt pirate themed (or any other theme that might interest your kiddo). Adding a time limit and prizes to the search can get your child moving at a quick pace as well.

Simon Says

Kids love games like Simon Says because of the element of surprise. So, be sure to add some silly instructions between jumping jacks and other moves meant to get your child active.

Obstacle Course

Obstacle courses can also add variety to your child’s physical activity. You can make your own using whatever materials you have handy, or check out courses at nearby parks or recreational centers.

Make sure you talk to your child’s cardiologist about what—if any—limitations. In general, heart kids who are post-transplant should try to avoid contact sports that may lead them to be hit directly in the chest.

I mentioned this in a previous post about exercise for heart kids, but it’s worth repeating: Keep in mind that your child’s activity level may also vary based on how active he was before receiving his transplant.

Also read:

If your kiddo is headed outside to play, make sure she’s wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated as well. And never underestimate the importance of setting aside a few minutes to warm up and cool down before and after exercising.

Barb Roessner

Hi, I'm Barb, and I'm a Physician Assistant and coordinator of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I work with patients and families at every step of the journey, from diagnosing their child's heart condition to my favorite part—calling them to say "We have a heart."

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