• adolescent;
  • congenital heart disease;
  • exercise;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • phenomenology

Aim.  To describe the subjective experience of engaging in exercise for adolescents with mild congenital heart disease (CHD).

Background.  Most children with mild CHD are now expected to survive to adolescence and even into adulthood. With early intervention, cardiopulmonary function and exercise capacity in most are comparable to those of normal peers. However, the exercise behaviours of these adolescent patients and their determinants remain largely undefined.

Design.  A descriptive phenomenological design was used.

Methods.  Eight adolescents with CHD who perceived no or only mild symptoms after engaging in exercise were individually interviewed using a semi-structured interview. Interviews were transcribed and non-verbal communication recorded within 24 hours of the interview. Transcriptions were analysed and perceptions and attitudes grouped according to theme expressed.

Findings.  The essence of the adolescents with mild CHD engaging in exercise was from limitation to mastery. Four themes emerged: (1) self-awareness: understanding the limitations of their disease and its impact on exercise; (2) perception: focusing on strengths and admitting limitations; (3) transcendence: developing coping strategies and maintaining balance; and (4) living with the disease: mastering oneself and living a normal life.

Conclusions.  The findings indicated that, when adolescents faced and accepted their exercise limitation, they would assess their condition, develop coping strategies from their accumulated experience and participate in exercise to maintain a healthy body and mind.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The findings provide a scientific knowledge base for nursing professionals to instruct adolescents with mild CHD in exercise and help families build the confidence of these adolescents.