In many endurance athletes, increased left ventricular (LV) size, a mildly reduced left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF), and lower resting heart rate develop as an adaptation to strenuous exercise. These non-pathological changes are termed as ‘athlete’s heart’, a term first used in the medical literature in 1953, although the first description of athletes with enlarged hearts dates back to the late 19th century. However, there is a fine line between athlete’s heart and true systolic dysfunction and pathological cardiomyopathy. Many professional athletes are diagnosed with cardiac pathology while still competing at the highest levels, while many others have died during games or competitions, or shortly after that, mostly due to dilated cardiomyopathy leading to sudden cardiac arrest. These findings have challenged the notion that excellent exercise capacity excludes pathological cardiomyopathy.
For those who fear it may be too late in life to improve their fitness and wellness, a recent study published in the journal Circulation has found that people into late middle age can reverse or reduce the risk of heart failure caused by decades of sedentary living by exercising.
There, is, however, a catch: research indicates that it takes two years of aerobic exercise, four to five days a week, to mitigate the risk of heart failure. Research has shown that sedentary behaviors – such as sitting or reclining for long periods of time – increase the risk of heart disease.