“Athlete’s Heart”

‘Athlete’s heart’ trouble?
Danny Green, a researcher at U. Western Australia, has published evidence that when highly fit athletes stop training, even temporarily, their heart function resembles that of people with heart disease or high blood pressure. “If you look at the hearts of people with cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, you see that their hearts are quite similar to those of these athletes. During the resting phase of the heart, athletes appear to have abnormal function like you see in people with disease, so it raises the question about whether there are long-term detrimental side effects for athletes. This is the first time in the world that this very interesting preliminary finding has emerged.”
Pre-fitness-boom folklore held that youthful athletes had a much higher risk of heart trouble as they aged. While Green’s finding flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that exercise any time is good for you, it addresses something few studies do, i.e., the hard-core, highly fit athlete. One wonders about the interpretation of the evidence. A heart murmur, for example, can arise from two sources, a faulty valve (common, and a sign of potential heart disease), or from a a big, powerful pump pushing blood through a small hole (hard-core athlete). More study is needed, but in the meantime, one more reason to manage your racing seasons and running career so you can still compete into your 90’s. (12/11/03)

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