Colourful silhouettes of kids doing various activities.

By Bianca Fukakusa, Dr. Erica Bennett, Dr. Christine Voss, and Dr. Kevin Harris, researchers at the Children’s Heart Centre

Physical activity is important for heart health for people of all ages. The recommendation for children, including children with congenital heart disease (CHD), is to be active for at least 60 minutes each day. Dr. Kevin Harris’s research has focused on physical activity in children with CHD. Whether it is playing soccer, dancing, riding a bike, helping with gardening, going for a walk, surfing, or doing karate, these activities and so many more are how we have seen children with CHD enjoy being active.

Many researchers have studied different ways to help children with CHD be more active and meet the recommendations, but we still do not know what the best way is. Each child with CHD has their own interests, obstacles, and motivators. We wanted to see what children and families with CHD thought about a physical activity counselling program that was centred on each individual family.

What did the physical activity counselling study look like?

Nine children with CHD between the ages of 9 and 12 took part in a Children’s Heart Centre research project led by Dr. Kevin Harris. They received physical activity counselling through a workbook made specifically for children with CHD called the “From the Heart” program. This workbook included activities like talking about the safety of physical activity, creating a physical activity goal to complete, and drawing a map of their neighbourhood to find opportunities for physical activity. Children and their parents worked with a physical activity counsellor over Zoom to complete these activities throughout the 12-week program.

Children in the study also wore a small device to measure their activity for a week before, in the middle, and at the end of the program. Some children and families were interviewed to provide feedback on their experiences with the program.

What did we learn from the physical activity counselling study?

As researchers, we learned a lot from the physical activity counselling study through feedback from both children and parents. One theme that we discovered from the interviews was the impact of a support system. Involving both the child and a parent or guardian in the program helped create a comfortable environment and helped with encouragement of physical activity goals and staying on track. This is an important learning to keep in mind for the future to make sure that both children and parents are part of physical activity programs to have everyone on board.

Another theme we noticed in the feedback was how important it was for children to have the freedom to decide how they completed the workbook activities and choose how they wanted to be active. Allowing children to pick what physical activity they wanted to do, when they would do it, and where created excitement around these goals. We also learned that the physical activity counselling program helped some children be more active. This program did not come without challenges, though, such as the time required to participate in it and the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are all important take-aways for researchers to learn from and apply to future studies and programs to help children with CHD be more active, in whatever ways are fun for them! If you are interested in learning more or getting involved in Children’s Heart Centre’s research studies for children with CHD, please get in touch with our team at ♥

Physical Activity Counselling Study infographic. Text version follows.

Infographic created by Tyler Woloshyn, Hadil Alfares, and Venessa Thorsen.

Text version of infographic:

Physical Activity Counselling Study

What did we do?

We wanted to know what children and families with congenital heart disease (CHD) thought about a physical activity counselling study

  • Physical activity counselling through workbook activities
  • Video calls with a counsellor at BC Children’s Hospital every other week for 12 weeks
  • Physical activity levels measured using an accelerometer
  • Measured physical activity before, in the middle, and at the end of the program

Who participated?

  • Nine children
  • CHD diagnoses:
    • Fontan
    • Coarctation of the aorta
    • Transposition of the great arteries
    • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • 9–12 years old

What did we learn?

  • Support systems are important to promote physical activity
  • Fosters a comfortable and encouraging environment
  • This physical activity counselling program helped some children to be more active
  • Encourage children with CHD to choose physical activity they enjoy
  • Creates excitement and motivation

Thank you!

We would like to thank the children and families who participated in this study and the Heart Centre staff!

“Physical Activity in Children with Congenital Heart Disease” is from our summer 2023 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.