The Todd and Karen Wanek Family Program for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) is a research program with the goal of delaying or preventing heart failure for individuals with HLHS.

To learn more or to participate, please visit our website or contact HLHS@mayo.edu.

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May 7, 2015

Physical Activity and Your HLHS Child

By Suzanne R. Ferguson, @suzannerferguson

Physical activity for your HLHS child is an important everyday topic. So we sat down with Dr. David Driscoll, Pediatric Cardiologist at Mayo Clinic to find out more.

3086990-052-164Q: First things first, is it okay for children with HLHS to do physical activities?

A: Yes, it is okay for children with HLHS to do physical activities. They can do everyday activities, ride bikes, play tag. That’s completely fine.

Issues come up with physical education classes and competitive athletics. In gym class, children can participate provided the instructors are cognizant that they need special attention. Generally, doctors will write a letter saying they can participate in gym as long as they can stop when they want. Under no circumstances should they continue once they want to stop. Nowadays, most of the schools are perceptive to these special needs. However, if there happens to be an old school drill-type instructor, then I tell the student that he or she cannot participate in gym class.

Q: What can parents expect of their child’s exercise tolerance or ability?

A: When children are under the age of four or five years old, they do start and stop exercises so parents won’t notice much of a difference between their child and others. As they age and do more sustained exercise, parents will be able to tell their child isn’t able to keep up with the others.

Q: Is there anything parents should watch out for or pay special attention to when their child is doing physical activity?

A: Children will know their limits. Parents should let their children do what they feel they can do.

Q: Can elementary school aged children play on sports teams?

A: Children playing on elementary level sports teams are evaluated on a case by case situation. It depends on how vigorous their competition is and if the child is allowed to come out when they are tired. There are no guidelines for elementary level sports, unlike middle school, high school and college levels, but it is best just to use common sense.

Q: What is the difference between recreational sports and organized competitive athletics?

A: We get this question a lot when we tell parents that their kids can’t be on the high school basketball team but they can play basketball with their friends. They ask, what’s the difference? The difference is when you are on the high school team, you have organized practice sessions and the coach, the players and peer pressure are going to push you beyond where you will want to stop, and we don’t want them in that situation. We want them in a situation where they are exercising, and when they feel like they need to stop, they can stop. There’s no pressure telling them they have to keep pushing, and that’s the difference between recreational sports and organized competitive athletics.

Q: Are there any physical activities that kids with HLHS should stay away from?

A: The issue of weight lifting comes up, particularly among boys. I recommend that they do light weights with high repetitions. The next question they ask is how much can they lift. The answer is if you can lift, and you can talk complete sentences then that weight is fine. If you are lifting and you have to stop talking, then that is too much.



The Todd and Karen Wanek Family Program for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) is a collaborative network of specialists bonded by the vision of delaying or preventing heart failure for individuals affected by congenital heart defects including HLHS. The specialized team is addressing the various aspects of these defects by using research and clinical strategies ranging from basic science to diagnostic imaging to regenerative therapies.

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