Exercise is safe and effective for people born with heart defects and could help them live longer, a Scottish study found.

Patients with congenital heart disease (CHD) require lifelong monitoring with recurrent hospital admissions and repeat open heart surgeries common.

It was previously thought that for some patients with CHD exercise could be too damaging for their hearts. However, a study by the Scottish Adult Congenital Cardiac Service (SACCS) found they experience similar benefits to those without problems.


Patients were assessed using a 6-minute walk test, grip, bicep and quadriceps strength, as well as psychological measurements.

They included a 12-week programme that included an online, personalised exercise plan, a walking programme and/or breathing exercises.

READ MORE: Canal life linked to drop in heart disease in deprived Glasgow areas 

The majority of participants improved on their fitness across all the physical measurements.

The study concluded that exercise is safe and deliverable when patients are given guidance and structure and can be incorporated into NHS guidance.

Niki Walker, Consultant Cardiologist at the Golden Jubilee Hospital, said: “The benefits of regular exercise are well known for the general population, but exercise and physical activity are areas where our patients often require support and advice. 


“There is evidence that cardiac rehabilitation based around group exercise and peer support is beneficial in the CHD population and the provision of supervised, self-directed exercise programmes, can lead to sustained improvements in activity levels.

“Even a modest increase in physical activity can reduce morbidity, improve psychological wellbeing and protect against cardiovascular disease.”

READ MORE: Scots born with heart defects bare their scars for Kelvingrove exhibition 

The study was funded by the foundation set up in honour of Professor Stewart Hillis, whose work in the treatment of adults with childhood heart defects was world renowned.

He also worked with the SFA for almost 40 years as the national squad’s official doctor and battled in vain to save Jock Stein’s life when he collapsed after suffering a heart attack at a World Cup qualifier against Wales in 1985. Professor Hillis died in 2014 at the age of 70.


Dr Mark MacGregor, Medical Director at NHS Golden Jubilee said: “This is an important study, which we can use to help patients across the country recover better, live longer and enjoy a better quality of life with congenital heart disease.”

The study by Niki Walker, Elaine Muirhead, Shelagh Brown, Jim Mearns from the SACCS team at NHS Golden Jubilee, and Honorary Research Fellow Dr Samuel Rodgers of Glasgow University is published in the International Journal of Cardiology Congenital Heart Disease.