Rowing Takes Heart - Elite Rower's Hearts May Appear Pathologic

If you have a strong interest in Sport Science you may well have heard a story about someone you know going to the doctor and inciting some degree of panic when tested. One colleague of mine was almost given an injection of adreniline when he went to hosital for something and his (perfectly normal) heart rate was measured in the low 30s. In another case, a clinical biochem professor showed his blood data to his class and pointed out how to an untrained doctor it would look as though he had a heart attack - he had finished third in the Boston Marathon.

Another measure that can be similar with athletes and unhealthy patients is heart size and thickness. In a failing heart you see enlargement - lengthened muscles contract stronger so it is an attempt to preserve cardiac stroke volume. Of course athletes hearts enlarge to pump more blood where it is needed also.

This article from back in 1991 in the New England Journal of Medicine sought to use imaging to separate the fit from the sick heart. They looked at 947 elite athletes from various sports looking at the thickness of the left ventrical wall. When it is greater than 13 mm it is considered to be a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Interestingly, only 16 of 947 athletes would have been seen as over 13 mm - 15 of them ROWERS or CANOEISTS.

If you are a highly trained rower and you have to see the cardiologist this is worth knowing. For most of us it is just an interesting bit of trivia...I suppose it is true that rowing takes heart!

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