For Teens

Healthy Lifestyle & Healthy Heart

Physical activity helps strengthen muscles and keep us healthy. Ask your doctor how much and what kinds of physical activity are best for you.

Because health benefits will be evident from moderate physical activity, health benefits of a physically active lifestyle are within reach of nearly all patients with CHD.

Importance of Being Active

The American Heart Association recommends the importance of physical activity for those with congenital heart defects (CHD) to help keep you healthy and growing strong. Talk to your cardiologist about what is right for you. Ask many questions so you can understand clearly if there are any limits to the amount or types of activity you should do.


Good Nutrition for the Heart

Good nutritional habits can be hard to follow for anyone, but it is especially important to think about nutrition when you are a teen with CHD. Proper nutrition means the right amounts and types of foods. If you are growing normally, you do not need to do anything more than enjoy a variety of healthy meals and snacks.

Just like any teen, it is okay to snack or have foods you enjoy, but there are some guidelines you should keep in mind to help protect your heart.

Remember – whatever questions you have about your diet or nutrition, talk to your health care provider, a dietitian, or nutritionist. It’s not always easy to find the right balance and your care team can help.

Questions to Consider

The right amount and level of intensity for exercise should be discussed with your cardiologist to determine what is right for you before starting any exercise or sport activity. However, it is an important part of keeping healthy.

  • Generally, children and young adults with heart defects should aim to do 20-60 minutes a day of aerobic or muscular conditioning exercise, 3 or more times a week. The amount that is right for you is something to discuss with your care team.
  • It is okay to enjoy recreational and team sport activities. You can explore recreational activities that are less demanding than competitive sports if that is what your provider recommends. These could include non-competitive team sports or clubs, activities with friends, and non-contact sports.
  • If your cardiologist recommends that you should limit your physical activities, discuss what physical activities are possible.

No matter what situation applies to you, ask your doctor for a note that describes any limits to physical activities so that you have it to provide to your school, coach, or other groups that may require it.

Once you know what level and type of activity is right for you, how to take care of yourself is pretty similar for any teen:

  • Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water (drink before becoming thirsty!) when it is hot. Dehydration is a common challenge and can put unnecessary strain on your body.
  • Talking is a good way to see how hard you are exercising. Depending on your activity limits, this is an easy guide to know if you are exerting more than you should. For instance, if you are able to comfortably talk to another person while you are active you are at a moderate activity level. You don’t have to be completely out of breath to get fit, and if it is important that you don’t overdo it, you can always use this as a guide.
  • If you are able to do vigorous activity, start gradually so your heart, lungs, and muscles get warmed up before you try to do really strenuous activities. Know where your limits are and what level of exercise is right for your situation.
  • Keep breathing when you are active. It’s easy to hold your breath, especially if you are trying really hard. Holding your breath makes your heart work harder so remember to breathe!

Teens with CHD should follow good nutritional habits just as any other teen! In general, here are some tips:

  • Eat a variety of food – everything in moderation (even the occasional treat)!
  • Eat whole grains, vegetables, and fruits when you can. It may not always be possible but try to work these foods into your daily routine.
  • Try to make breakfast the most important meal, so don’t skip it. Breakfast helps you in a few important ways by helping to maintain healthy weight, give you energy, and reduces the urge to eat foods that may not be good for your heart.
  • Review the sugar content in your drinks and try to limit how many sugared drinks you have. These can add up and lead to other conditions that put stress on your heart.
  • Always consult with your doctor about any individual nutrient needs.


Growing Up with CHD

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Lifestyle Choices & Risky Behavior