Let’s provide some context with some simple and irrefutable facts:
- Moderate exercise has undeniable health benefits. It is associated with a longer life, a lower risk of heart attack, less diabetes, lower rates of some cancers, less depression etc etc. Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise (such as jogging) per week.
- The risk of dying from a heart rhythm problem in healthy young adults is somewhere around 4 per million, about 10 times less likely than being killed in a car accident.
- The risk of dying from a heart attack (caused by a blockage of an artery to the heart) is much higher than the risk of dying from a heart rhythm. Exercise is a very good way of preventing a heart attack because it improves cholesterol, blood pressure etc.
You can essentially summarise all discussion of sudden death in young athletes under the banner VERY RARE.
Emma Carney is an Australian former professional triathlete and two time World Triathlon Champion. She is one of the few triathletes in the world to have won two ITU world titles.
With Emma’s story in mind, what causes an elite athlete to develop life threatening heart rhythm problems? Do all athletes put themselves at a greater risk of life threatening heart arrhythmias?
At present, no one has any answers to this second question, however, if there is an excess risk in athletes, it is very, very small.
Dr Andre La Gerche delves deeper into both these issues at First Off The Bike, explaining the source of heart problems and the associated risks of exercise.The Bottom Line Is...
Train sensibly. Consider your heart as part of the total package. It can become fatigued and overtrained just as your other muscles can. I would argue that if you train sensibly you will avoid poor performances and you will further reduce an already very small risk of heart rhythm problems.
Related Links: Top 5 foods for a healthy heart
Dr Andre La Gerche MBBS, FRACP, PhD Cardiologist (St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne) and currently continuing research in Sports Cardiology at the University Hospital of Leuven, Belgium.