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Being Physically Active when you Have a Genetic Cardiovascular

separator 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 generalizations.

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.
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