According to an article written in the newspaper el mundo based on new research, resistance exercise damages the heart over time, exactly the right ventricle.
Although the authors of the study emphasize that they cannot affirm that intense exercise is unhealthy, everything indicates that some athletes were born with a susceptibility to heart damage and this type of deortem damages them in the long run.
Marathon, triathlon or alpine cycling athletes should keep a close eye on their hearts. The latest scientific evidence has come to light that confirms that intense and long-term sport does can cause damage to the right ventricle (one of the four chambers of the heart that receives non-oxygenated blood from the right atrium and drives it out of the organ through the pulmonary artery) in some of them.
André LaGerche, from the University of Melbourne (Australia), and lead author of the research, confirms to ELMUNDO.es: «We know that our work cannot be extrapolated to everyone, as if to affirm that intense exercise is not healthy. The data does not support this premise. However, the findings suggest that some athletes may have been born with a susceptibility to heart damage as a result of the practice of endurance sports sustained over time ”.
The research, published in the last 'European Heart Journal', sheds a little more light on a heated debate in the last two decades: the heart risks of elite athletes. In fact, recently, a group of researchers led by scientists from the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, in collaboration with the Montreal Heart Institute (Quebec, Canada), published a trial in 'Circulation' -this time in mice- which found that resistance exercise continued for years can cause alterations in the heart structure creating a substrate to suffer arrhythmias.
Josep Brugada, medical director of the Hospital Clinic and one of the authors of this research, acknowledges: “Neither the medical community nor the population have admitted for years that elite sports practice could lead to health problems. It was a taboo subject, partly because it seemed that nothing could be said against physical exercise, something that on the other hand we all know how recommendable it is. However, the evidence has accumulated and we know that an obsession with sports can be harmful. In fact, as with everything, you have to maintain a balance. You cannot push the body to the limit.
In the new research, the authors recruited 40 elite Australian athletes who were planning to participate in one of four local endurance sport events (marathon, alpine cycling, triathlon and ultra-triathlon).
All of them met certain criteria: they trained more than 10 hours a week, they had obtained good results in previous competitions, they had neither symptoms nor cardiac risk factors, nor did they show alterations during the echocardiograms performed on them.
In order to carry out the research, the scientists analyzed the athletes at three specific moments: during the two and three weeks before the race, immediately after it, and between six and 11 days after the participation, when the athletes they were already practicing minimal training.
To do this, they underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), blood tests (before and after the competition) and echocardiography at the three times previously mentioned.
The data shows that immediately after the sporting event, the athletes' hearts had changed shape: had a greater volume and the function of the right ventricle was decreased.
"Regarding blood levels of type B natriuretic peptide (BNP), which is secreted by the ventricles in response to excessive stretching of heart muscle cells, the data show that they were increased," reads the trial .
It insists that although ventricular function recovered in most of the athletes a week after the competition, in five of them (those who had been training and competing for the longest time), MRI detected signs of scarring (cardiac fibrosis).
“Moderate exercise is an important therapy for cardiovascular disease, but its effects on health when practiced vigorously are less well defined. We have shown that intense resistance exercise causes a reduction in the function of the right ventricle that increases with the duration of the race and correlates with the increase of the biological markers of cardiac damage. On the contrary, the left ventricle does not suffer any alteration ”, adds the scientist LaGerche.
This expert acknowledges: «Now we know that intense sport increases the risk of some arrhythmias (as Catalan researchers have previously shown), but we do not know the mechanisms by which this risk is increased, although we know that the right ventricle is highly involved. From now on, we need to understand the short-term changes in said ventricle and study the potential connections that exist between this transformation and the increased probability of arrhythmias in elite athletes.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brugada believes that it is absolutely necessary to make early diagnosis of these arrhythmias in athletes. “We already know what happens with excess sport, a fact also documented in the Nordic countries with cross-country skiers. But we do not know which athletes will suffer the consequences of their effort. So it is necessary to make them all long-term follow-ups, in order to be able to detect any anomaly in time ”.
On this point, the Australian researcher is in complete agreement, who also advises athletes to be alert to any symptoms. “There are no fixed rules that make us suspect the existence of a problem, so the athlete must be vigilant. If you notice that when you train, your performance has decreased or your heart rate increases when you are resting, both may mean that your heart needs more time to recover. We still need to work a lot in this field, to know what is really happening.