I have been diagnosed with an athletic heart , once at 42 and a second time at 50. I had to go through a work-up after having an abnormal EKG. Both work-ups consisted of treadmill and echo/dye. I was told by 2 cardiologists that I had an increased myocardial wall thickness with high to norm cardiac output and a resting HR of 40. I was told that it occured with adaptation to weight training for 30+ yrs and that there was no medication or lifestyle changes that they could recommend. If I wanted to have a normal EKG, I could stop training for 3-4 mths and my heart would decrease in size and stroke volume (normal). I have chosen to not stop training. There is a big difference between a heart adapting to training and a myocardial hypertrophy secondary to a disease process.[/quote]
x2, and I’m 51.
I have athletic heart as well. Look, the heart is a muscle and like any other muscle it will respond to its environment. If you did heavy curls regularly for 6 months and saw zero change, then you’d mightily wonder about what’s wrong with your arms or your training, right? same for the heart.
Those of us with AH have weirder vitals. low resting pulse rate (< 50 bmp), higher than normal upper bp number (mine is 135/55) which indicates that the heart is being an extremely powerful pump. There have been several high profile cases of sudden cardiac death, mostly during soccer matches, so any unusual cardiac behavior for athletes gets flagged. In those cases, there were neurological issue with the heart and AH head nothing to do with them (I have a study around here some place that discusses this at length). No study shows AH affects lifespan or cardiac health in a negative way.
The problem is if the lower bp number(= resting bp, between strokes) is high, which stretches the heart from being pear shaped to spherical. This will cause congestive heart failure which can only be fixed with a transplant.
Final issue issue to ponder is the myth that aerobic exercise makes your heart healthier. There was a study done some years back with older marathon runners and none of them had AH, but most all of them showed markers for cardiac damage after longer runs (which is absent in younger runners, btw). Since roughly 4% of the subjects died during races while the study was underway, the most reasonable conclusion is that running, especially longer distances is independent of cardiac health. It may be used as part of a cardiac training program, but is insufficient to ensure long-term cardiac health. With the deaths of several high-mileage running gurus (Jim Fixx, e.g.) it is quite clear that running does zero to offset damage to arteriosclerosis too.
(On the other hand, studies confirm that metabolic syndrome does not occur with nearly the same prevalence with people who are just physically strong, so weight training does have a provable positive effect on long-term health. The problem with it is that it is technical and a lot of hard work to do right. Aerobic exercises is appealing precisely because you can start immediately and do it badly without penalty, unlike a heavy squat.)
I’m not sure that its reasonable to draw conclusions about the benefits of aerobic exercise from a study on marathon runners. There is a world of difference between them and someone who jogs for 1/2 hour a few times a week. Any activity taken to that kind of extreme is likely to be detremental to one’s health.