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The Cardiac Fitness Program (CFP) at Boston Children’s Hospital believes that people who have congenital heart disease (CHD) can achieve the same benefits of exercise as those who do not have CHD. Our program — one of the few in the country — offers a supervised, individually tailored exercise and education program for children and adults with congenital heart conditions and pediatric-acquired heart disease. We believe everyone has the right to experience the confidence and joy that comes from being active.

'Find your possible'

The benefits of exercise go beyond just improving your physical health. Physical activity also boosts your confidence and overall quality of life. Being active brings strength, fun, health, and new possibilities. In fact, our participants often learn they are stronger and more capable than anyone ever imagined. This is why our motto is “find your possible.”

What are the goals of the Cardiac Fitness Program?

Our goal is to empower patients with CHD to participate in exercise, gain self-confidence, and develop a positive attitude about exercise and physical activity. We train our patients along all four pillars of fitness: aerobic, strength, flexibility, and mindset. We want to help patients discover their strengths and abilities that they may not have known they possessed, improve their heart health, and have fun.

What happens at the Cardiac Fitness Program?

Participants meet one on one twice a week with an exercise physiologist who is skilled in designing individualized exercise training plans. Sessions start out in person and then transition to virtual training for most cases. The supervised program is three months long, with periodic check-ins up to a year after, to help keep participants on target.

Watch: How vital is exercise for a kid’s heart/body/mind?

Cardiologist Dr. Naomi Gauthier, director of Boston Children’s Cardiac Fitness Program, discusses the importance of exercise — especially for a healthy heart.

Who can benefit from the Cardiac Fitness Program?

We typically see patients ages 8 and older who could benefit from being more active, are recovering from surgery, or need help developing safe and effective exercise practices. We work with people who have a wide range of heart conditions. Additionally, all of our patients are assessed by a specialized exercise cardiologist for potential risks and eligibility.

Is cardiac fitness safe for those with a heart condition?

Yes. Studies show that serious complications during supervised exercise training are rare. We monitor each patient’s heart rate and rhythm with state-of-the-art wireless telemetry during in-person exercise and have safety protocols in place for virtual training.

Our expertise and innovation in cardiac fitness

Our large patient volume, combined with our clinical expertise and strong academic resources, set our program apart from others of its kind. Our team includes pediatric and adult congenital cardiologists and exercise physiologists, and we also collaborate with our cardiac nutritionists and clinical psychologists. We developed the first risk assessment model for patients with CHD and are analyzing outcomes on everything from strength to flexibility, as well as the effects on ADHD and patient mindset. We also offer a training program for exercise cardiology and lead the Global Coalition for Fitness and CHD, a professional organization that brings together experts around the world to grow the field.

How is the program unique for adults?

Adults with congenital heart disease (ACHD) can have specific exercise limitations and goals. We also know that fitness in ACHD patients is crucial to maximizing health and longevity. Our team provides a personalized approach to help each ACHD patient maximize their fitness and overall health. Graduates of the adult CFP program are encouraged to develop and maintain a strategy for lifetime fitness. We utilize the resources available to each patient so that they can continue their CFP achievements well beyond the program. Our graduates include those recovering from cardiac surgery, athletes looking to recover from illness to those who are reaching new levels of fitness due to prior limitations.