Posted on May 20, 2014

Most physicians advise their patients to frequently exercise, particularly if they need to improve their heart health. But is this always a good idea?

BBC news reports on exercising for heart health.

A new study shows that exercising, especially endurance based exercise is not always good for your heart’s rhythm.

Experts report that endurance exercising can cause many people engaging in this form of exercise to eventually need a pacemaker. “A British Heart Foundation team found exercise triggers molecular changes in the part of the heart that generates its natural beating rhythm. This may explain why elite athletes have low resting heart rates and more risk of heart rhythm disturbances,” according to BBC.

Researchers say this does not mean that people should discontinue exercising but rather that they should be careful when it comes to endurance exercising and training.

BBC reports, “Endurance athletes are generally very fit. Yet, paradoxically, they are more likely to have heart rhythm disturbances, known as arrhythmias, especially as they get older.”

The way endurance athletes train account for the heart issues that they experience later. BBC explains, “Experts have suspected that this is because long-term training for extreme endurance events such as marathons and triathlons slows the heartbeat down. While normal adults have resting heart rates between 60-100 beats per minute, hearts of endurance athletes can beat only 30 times per minute or even less at night time when there can be long pauses between heart beats. The heart rate is set by the heart's pacemaker, which is controlled by the nervous system. And so it was assumed that the low heart rate of athletes was a result of the autonomic nervous system going into overdrive.”

Other experts came to a different conclusion for why endurance athletes need pacemakers, “Instead, the heart's in-built pacemaker changes in response to training. They found that endurance exercise led to a decrease in an important pacemaker protein, known as HCN4, and that this was responsible for the low heart rate. This is important because although normally a low resting heart rate of an athlete does not cause problems, elderly athletes with a lifelong training history are more likely to need an artificial electronic pacemaker fitted,” according to BBC.


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