According to exercise scientists and cardiologists, regular exercise alters the look and function of the human heart, particularly the left ventricle. This chamber of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the rest of the body, using a twisting and unspooling motion.
All exercise, but specifically aerobic exercise, requires that a large amount of oxygen be delivered to working muscles, which places high demands on the left ventricle. For this reason, in athletes’ hearts, this part of the heart is usually larger and stronger than in more sedentary people. It functions more efficiently allowing the heart to pump more blood more quickly.
Over time, any exercise can cause this type of improvement to this part of the heart, but according to this study, competitive rowers had greater muscle mass in their left ventricles than runners, making their hearts strong but potentially less agile during the twisting phase that pumps blood to muscles.
In this later study, researchers set out to study and compare the structure and function of elite swimmers’ and runners’ hearts. Not surprisingly they found both types of athletes had excellent heart health. These elite athletes all had resting heart rates around 50 beats per minute, which is lower than for most people and certainly for sedentary people. Both the runners and swimmers also had larger than normal and very efficient left ventricles as observed on EKGs.
What was surprising was that the efficiency of the left ventricles was increased in the runners. Their ventricles filled even earlier and untwisted more emphatically than the swimmers’ did. Theoretically, this should indicate that this would allow blood to move away from and back to the runners’ hearts more rapidly than would happen inside the swimmers’ hearts.
However, these differences do not necessarily show that the runners’ hearts worked better than the swimmers’.
Because the swimmers exercise in a horizontal position, their hearts don’t have to fight gravity to get blood back to the heart, unlike in runners. So, posture does some of the work for swimmers, and their hearts reshape themselves only as much as needed for the demands of their particular sport
So my two take-aways from these findings are: It is amazing how beautifully our bodies are created and respond to different types of exercise and since all of the athletes showed better function than the general population, it underscores the fact that exercise is good for heart health.
I you exercise regularly, what type of exercise do you favor and why?
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