Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The New York Times Explores Endurance Sports

Robert Mackey, over at the New York Times, wrote a facinating article, titled, "Are Endurance Sports Good for You?" A facinating topic if you ask me! But the best part of all was reading the blog he linked to, V-Tach, by Craig Cook, who is experiencing Acquired Arrhythmia, "a condition that seems to be prevalent in endurance athletes." Here's a clip from the NY Times story, which carefully reminds the reader, not to go all "Chicken Little" with this thing:

.... But being in touch with Craig led me
to read the whole story of his battle with Acquired Arrhythmia on his blog. In Craig’s latest post, he wrote
about a study in 2003 by a cardiologist named Hein Heidbüchel, which raised the
possibility that, as Dr. Heidbüchel told Agence
France Presse
, “Lifelong endurance training may lead to heart disturbances,
particularly in young male athletes.”
Craig also links to an
editorial that same year in the European Heart Journal
, titled “Endurance
athletes: exploring the limits and beyond,” that considers the implications of
the Heidbüchel study. The authors of the editorial write that the possibility
that endurance training may, in some circumstances, for some people, cause
damage to the heart raises “a fundamental question to medical practitioners:
what are the reasonable limits for the practice of sport?” The editorial expands
on that question as follows:
Humans have always tried to push back the limits
imposed by their physical characteristics. Competitive sports are in themselves
a continuous struggle to surpass these established limits. As physicians, we are
frequently asked not only to identify and treat diseases, but to define what is
and what is not healthy behaviour. …
The general population has the
perception that athletes are the healthiest members of society, since they are
capable of such impressive physical performance. However, the cardiological
community has been interested in the inherent risk of sport for many years.

Up until now, sudden death in athletes has been attributed to underlying,
pre-existing cardiovascular diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or
right ventricular dysplasia. In this issue of the journal, Heidbüchel and
co-workers go a step further, and hypothesize that long-lasting, competitive
endurance activities may, in some individuals, induce structural changes in the
right ventricle. This can lead to a kind of ‘acquired right ventricular
dysplasia’ that may finally produce ventricular arrhythmias and sudden death.
Although the published paper does not prove this hypothesis, the high mortality
observed in this series of patients is quite worrisome. …
New data
suggesting that excessive endurance training may have deleterious consequences
for the heart need to be confirmed by case-control studies of non-selected
As Craig says on his blog, it is important not to extrapolate
too many conclusions from the results of one study of only several dozen
endurance athletes. He writes:
Some media outlets have taken this to Chicken
Little extremes. A widely disseminated article by Agence France Presse (here
carried on the Discovery Channel of all places) almost seems to be telling us to
retreat to our couches and TV sets, or else… “Most athletes pay a physical price
for their love of the sport, but the ones who engage in endurance sports may be
pushing their bodies to the brink of heart failure, according to a new study”,
we are told. This is alarmist.
I’d suggest anyone interested in this issue
read the whole of Craig’s blog, and follow all the links, but the idea that very
fit endurance athletes could be doing damage to their hearts, even while
succeeding at a very high level, is kind of surprising. As Craig points out, the
hugely successful, American cyclist Bobby
was diagnosed, and successfully treated for, the very same condition
a few years ago.

1 comment:

Allison said...
This is interesting -- "For Heart Health, Sprints Match Endurance Training"