Exercise good for children with heart defects

According to a new U.S. study, children born with heart defects who have traditionally been told not to exercise can improve their heart function through programs that involve exertion.

Congenital heart defects affect about eight of every one thousand newborns in the United States.

Jonathan Rhodes, a cardiologist at Children's Hospital in Boston who led the study, says that with the approval of a pediatric cardiologist, and after careful exercise testing, exercise is generally safe and tolerable for children with congenital heart defects.

It seems that in the study of 16 children ages 8 to 17 who underwent a three-month rehabilitation programme, all but one showed significant gains in heart function.

Rhodes says that the children had done little exercise and had been discouraged by coaches, doctors, parents and teachers against doing exercise.

Rhodes says that cardiac rehabilitation is not a common component of most pediatric cardiology programmes, but he now hopes that his hospital will open a formal cardiac rehabilitation programme for children by 2007.

The study's exercise programme involved twice-weekly, hour-long sessions of stretching, aerobics and light weight-resistance exercises and included dance, calisthenics, kickboxing, jump rope, races and games.

Apparently all 16 children who completed the programme had received heart surgery or a nonsurgical procedure, and 11 of the 16 had only one functional heart pumping chamber, meaning they were a "sick group," says Rhodes.

At the completion of the programme, 15 of the 16 children had significantly improved heart function, with the organ pumping more blood with each beat, and delivering more oxygen.

The study is published in the December issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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