Being Physically Active when you Have a Genetic Cardiovascular
There are some genetic cardiovascular diseases (GCVD) that make it too dangerous
to play competitive sports because of the high risk of sudden death during
exercise. Each of these conditions is fairly rare, but when you group them
together, they affect a good deal of people. What are these conditions?
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Marfan syndrome
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy
- Ion channel diseases, including Long-QT syndrome, Brugada syndrome and
catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia
When you read about an adolescent or young adult who died suddenly during
physical activity or shortly afterwards, one of these conditions is usually to
blame. There are already guidelines in place that physicians can use to give
advice their patients with GCVD about competitive sports.
But many people with
GCVDs want to
be physically active, even though they know it’s not safe for them to take
part in most competitive sports. Recently, in the journal Circulation, the
American Heart Association published a document that can help doctors decide
which activities to recommend and which to avoid for their GCVD patients who
want to reap the benefits of exercise. These recommendations are for people age
40 and under, but in time, it could be that the same recommendations will apply
for people over 40 as well. More time is needed to make that determination.
Why not competitive sports?
Competitive sports, by their very nature, encourage athletes to push themselves
to the limit. Long, daily training sessions; exercise in extreme weather
conditions; pushing through even when exhaustion sets in—these are the hallmarks
of competitive athleticism. And these are just the kinds of things that make it
dangerous for someone with GCVD to take part in.
More leisurely, recreational activities, on the other hand, can be done at your
own pace. You can choose how long to do them and how frequently. You can stop as
soon as you want to. These types of activities are more in line with what’s
likely to be less risky for people with GCVD.
Different conditions, different activities acceptable
The document in Circulation provides a table that shows different types of
exercise and ranks the risk level they have for the different types of
cardiovascular conditions. However, there’s no across-the-board, hard and fast
rule to follow, because everybody’s situation is different. But there are some
For example, it’s safe to say that pretty much anybody with GCVD should avoid
activities like sprinting, which require short bursts of energy, because of a
high risk of sudden cardiac trouble or because such activity can make the
disease worse. Activities like weight lifting, rock climbing, diving and
downhill skiing, which require progressive levels of exertion, are probably too
dangerous for most people with GCVD as well.
On the other hand, brisk walking is something that most people with GCVD, as are
bowling, skating and golf.
If you have a genetic heart condition…
What’s the best way to experience the benefits of exercise if you have GCVD?
Talk with your doctor. Mention these new recommendations, published in the 8
June issue of Circulation. Discuss your exercise options with your doctor, so
that you can know for sure which activities are dangerous for you and which ones
pose a lower risk.
If there are activities that work well for you, why not pursue them? Why not
take part in something that can boost your sense of well-being, relieve stress,
help you control your weight and build strength?
American Heart Association; Circulation, 8 June 2004.