Fontan and Exercise
Increasingly the importance of regular physical activity is being recognised for people with a Fontan circulation.
"Cardio" type exercise programs with a component of moderate-intensity weight training has been shown to be of benefit for the cardiovascular system in other forms of heart disease but research investigating such physical activity in people with Fontan-hearts is limited.
Some small studies have shown cardio exercise (such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing and jogging) improves exercise capacity in Fontan-hearts and recent Australian research has suggested that healthier limb muscles after a doctor-supervised, strength-training program helped the Fontan circulation to work more effectively both at rest and during exercise, probably by helping to pump blood back through the lungs and into the heart.
More research is needed to clarify the optimal exercise regimen that might include aspects of "cardio" exercise and some carefully supervised strength-training to help build muscle bulk, but what we do know already is that maintaining an active lifestyle with regular physical activity several days a week is beneficial.
A good target during exercise is to reach a level of exertion at which you are breathing hard, but can still have a conversation without having to stop to catch your breath. Lifting really heavy weights that are so difficult that you have to hold your breath to strain or grunt should be avoided as this can have negative effects on your cardiovascular system.
Before undertaking any vigorous exercise training program it is important that you discuss your plans with your cardiologist. They may also be able to give you some helpful targets for your heart rate and level of exertion.
Dr Rachael Cordina
Adult Congenital Cardiologist &
Vice-Chair of Fontan Registry
Dept Cardiology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Dept Medicine, Sydney Medical School, Sydney