Exercise as it relates to Disease/Heart complications in Endurance Athletes

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Heart complications in Endurance Athletes[edit | edit source]

Brief Background

The term "heart complication" is often exchanged with cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels, hypertrophy of the heart muscle which can ultimately lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Complications associated with the heart include:[1]

  • Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
  • Lone Atrial Fibrillation
  • Heart Hypertrophy
  • Fibrosis of the heart.[2]

Heart complications are common amongst Australian endurance athletes. Specifically, nine out of ten Australian endurance athletes have developed heart abnormalities, some severe and others manageable.[3]


Diagnosis of heart complications in endurance athletes is often during screening or tests for other medical related concerns.[4] Abnormalities of the heart can be detected via:

  • Echocardiography (displays size and shape of the heart)
  • Chest X-ray (Utilizes radiography to show heart and lung structure)
  • Blood Tests (Tests levels of hormones and minerals essential for heart health).[4]

In cases where diagnosis is similar to other clinically relevant heart abnormalities then the following tests would be required:

  • ECG (electrical impulses that record heart activity)
  • Stress Test (Measures response of the heart to stressful situations).[4]

To confirm the clinical diagnosis of the hearts disease, cardiology specialist will look for the following symptoms:

  • Infrequent heart rhythm
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Depletion of energy
  • Increased fatigue.[5]


Deconditioning is a treatment method to help an athlete adapt to a less demanding environment, while also decreasing intensity from exercise. Primarily used as a method of treatment for heart abnormalities in endurance based athletes. Deconditioning over a period of 3 months will allow the heart to return to regular function and structure.[6]

Medications that assist in treatment of heart complications and abnormalities include:

  • Warfarin (Blood thining agent)
  • Digoxin (Regulates blood pressure)
  • Beta Blockers (Slows heart rate)
  • Calcium Channel blockers (Heart rate regulator)


Obtain medical advice prior to beginning or continuation of endurance based training is highly advisable. Diagnosis can help evaluate individuals heart complication risks of heart complications, thus allowing them to set specific training intensity and duration.[7]

Exercise Recommended Activity from The Heart Foundation
Frequency 3-5 sessions per week
Intensity moderate to high intensity
Time 30–45 minutes per session
Type Low intensity, high duration


Further Reading

  • The Heart Foundation [9]
  • Cycling Tips [10]

Reference List

  1. Maton, A., Hopkins, J., McLaughlin, C., Johnson, S., Warner, M., LaHart, D., Wright, J (1993), Human Biology and Health, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  2. Willhelm, M., (2013), Atrail fibrillation in endurance athletes, Euj Prev Cardiol 45(2), 58-63.
  3. Rogers, L., (2011), Cardiologist find evidence why to much exercise might be bad for you, European Heart Journals, 32(21),2585-2593
  4. a b c Mayo Clinic Health (2013), http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-arrhythmias/DS00290/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
  5. Lluis mont, N. C.J.B.M.S., (2012), Atrial Fibrillation and Atrail flutter in athletes. British journal of sports medicine, 46(1),i37-i43
  6. Maron, BJ., Pelliccia, A., Spataro, A., & Granata, M., (1993), Reduction in left ventricular wall thickness after deconditioning in highly trained Olympic athletes, British Heart Journal, 69(2), 125-126
  7. Gayagay, G., Et al (1998),Elite endurance athletes and the ACE I allele: the role of genes in athletic performance , Human genetics 103, 48-50.
  8. Henry, A., Et al (2011),Evolutionary principles and their practical application, Evolutionary Applications, 159-183
  9. Heart foundation(2013),http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/
  10. Exercise is good for the heart...but is there a limit?(2010),http://cyclingtips.com.au/2010/10/exercise-is-good-for-the-heart…-but-is-there-a-limit/