The Nathan Project for Rare Diseases

Translational research

Congenital heart defects

Professor Tony Blazevich (left), Nathan (centre), and Professor Ken Nosaka (right) at Edith Cowan University.

Congenital heart defects are the most common congenital disorder in newborns, with approximately 9 in every 1,000 babies affected. Surgical procedures have vastly improved survival rates for both common and rare types of congenital heart defects, with >95% of patients expected to survive into adulthood. Despite these advances, congenital heart defects remains a significant health burden.

Exercise therapy, in the form of cardiac rehabilitation programs, has the potential to improve cardiac parameters and exercise capacity in patients with acquired heart disease and has been extensively studied in the adult population. However, there have been few studies (about 16 studies) investigating the effects of exercise training in children with congenital heart defects.

The limited experience with and availability of these programs has caused the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation to be unavailable to most children with CHD. This is unfortunate as the available evidence shows that routine use of such programs may greatly reduce the morbidity associated with congenital heart defects.

Why is exercise important in kids with congenital heart defects?

It is known children with congenital heart defects usually live sedentary lives and do not participate in regular exercise, therefore, cardiac rehabilitation programs have the potential to benefit these children. Any disability related to their heart condition may be compounded by deconditioning. This component of their disability should respond to exercise training. Indeed, regular exercise is associated with many physical, psychological and social benefits and is a key factor in the prevention of acquired cardiovascular diseases.

Our research

We are working with Professors in biomechanics, medical sports science, and specialist paediatric cardiologists to develop a cardiac exercise study. We are interested in studying the effects of exercise in children with severe, complex congenital heart defects. Specifically, we want to understand how exercise impacts on the exercise performance and capacity in children with congenital heart defects. We also want to know how exercise affects the overall quality of life in these patients.