Heart Of A Champion

Fitness conditioning will cause your heart and lungs to adapt to the demands of cardiovascular exercise.

Published August 10, 2011 05:06

Heart Of A Champion
Ana Ivanovic

Did you ever consider what your heart is literally doing while participating in sporting activities?

Athletes understand that "cardio" training promotes on-court endurance and is a vital part of conditioning for sport. But did you know that some symptoms, the same as those of poor fitness, may be due to something more serious?

How Does Your Heart Run?

The heart is a muscular pump at the center of the cardiovascular (circulatory) system. It propels blood through vessels to each part of the body, delivering oxygen and other nutrients essential for normal function. The heart is vital because it :
• Works involuntarily - it does not require purposeful thought to function like your arms or legs.
• Runs on a built-in battery - an electrical impulse within the heart initiates each contraction.
• Consists of four chambers with one-way doors (valves) between to direct the blood to flow in a specific direction.

A Breath Of Fresh Air

While the heart acts as the distribution center for oxygen and nutrients which are delivered through the blood, the lungs act as the loading dock for receiving these nutrients from the air. The pulmonary (respiratory) system works closely with the cardiovascular system to sustain life. As we breathe in, oxygenated air travels through the trachea and bronchial tubes to the alveoli which collect oxygen and pass it to the pulmonary artery (blood vessel) to be returned to the heart for distribution to the body. The alveoli take carbon dioxide waste from the blood and remove it from the body as we breathe out.

Pump Up Your Performance

During exercise your body uses more oxygen and nutrients to sustain the activity of the muscles and subsequently produces more waste products (carbon dioxide). To keep up with these demands, you will increase your respiratory rate (breathing faster) and heart rate (faster pulse) to deliver the required oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Fitness conditioning through the years will cause your heart and lungs to adapt to the demands. Some of the changes that may occur are:
• Dilation (expansion) of heart chambers 
• Slower resting heart rate
• Thickening of walls of heart
• Quicker recovery of heart rate after exercise

These changes are part of what is termed "athletic heart syndrome", which is considered a normal response to intense training over time. These changes allow the heart to function more efficiently.

Sometimes, the change in size or thickness of the heart can be related to a more serious condition(s), such as those described below. A cardiovascular assessment by a medical specialist may be recommended to confirm or deny any suspicious findings.


Lung problems that can affect athletes are asthma, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia (lung infection), and pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Luckily, these are much less common, but are very serious illnesses.

Typical symptoms of lung disease may include:
• shortness of breath
• chest tightness
• wheezing
• reduced exercise tolerance

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek further medical evaluation by their doctor as these illnesses may cause long term health problems if left untreated. If you include regular aerobic, cardiovascular, and/or interval training activities in your fitness program but frequently or occasionally experience the following symptoms, a cardiovascular assessment with your physician and/or cardiovascular specialist is highly recommended:
• irregular heart beat (palpitation)
• racing heart beat
• passing out (fainting)
• chest pain
• shortness of breath
• family history of heart disease
• family history of unexplained sudden death in males <50 or females <60

Upon review of the history of symptoms and examination of the athlete's heart and lungs, the doctor may determine that further testing is necessary.

Every situation is different, but the best way to have the heart of a champion is to play with a healthy one!

The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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