Be Well

If you exercise, you should know this.

In a previous post my dad, who is a cardiologist, talked about sudden death. Now he will explain with more depth the connection between that syndrome, exercise and the heart.

This post is dedicated to all people who exercise or want to start exercising at any level. Here Dr. Vega, my dad, shares some of the precautionary measures necessary to care for the hearts of athletes. 

Our health and our heart

Running, dancing, jumping, being able to move and exercise is one of the pleasures of life. Being free in our bodies is a privilege and using it to feel well, even more. We’ve talked about this here before, exercise is good for our physical health (included our heart) but also for our mind and spirit.
Of course, you may already know, exercise is one of the keys to a healthy life.
Today we’re going to talk about another of the keys of wellbeing: prevention. Taking care of our body requires a fine balance between what we can do daily for our health and the preventive actions we can take to care for our health even more.
In this post, Dr. Vega explains which measures should be taken by athletes to take care of their heart.

Exercise and the heart

It can be 1 in 23 thousand, 1 in 43 thousand or 1 in 300 thousand athletes. The statistics fluctuate according the the variables, but the point is that that’s the approximate number of people who die from sudden death in the world every year.

Sadly, there are stories of athletes that have suffered sudden death right in the middle of the action. In 2003, the soccer player from Cameroon, Marc-Vivien Foé, died while playing in a match against Colombia in the FIFA Confederations Cup. He passed out in the field and couldn’t be reanimated.

This is shocking because we’re talking about athletes, people that are meant to be healthy and used to practicing a significant amount of daily exercise. But these are the people that can be most at risk if they don’t know the condition of their heart (because most heart syndromes can’t be identified without proper medical testing).

The heart of the athlete

It’s also good to know that the heart of an athlete performs a little bit different than the heart of a person that doesn’t exercise. Just like a soccer player has more developed leg muscles or a swimmer has a stronger back, the heart is a muscle that adapts to the work it’s given.

There are some changes that the heart of the athlete can present over time, such as:

#1 Cardiac hypertrophy:  This is a condition in which the walls of the heart become thicker. Like the bicep in someone who trains with weights, the heart responds to stimuli and becomes stronger. This condition is called non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

#2 Bradycardia: When the person presents a low heart frequency. This must be handled with care because at night the heartbeats can diminish substantially and become risky.

#3 Heart blockages: These little blockages can limit some of the blood flow in the heart and generally disappear when the person stops exercising.

#4 Also, heart murmurs can show up as a consequence of exercise and aren’t considered pathological.

It’s important to take into account that these modifications are normal in the heart of someone that practices exercise regularly.

These are NOT common in sedentary people and can be considered pathological (a condition or illness). The big lesson is: Every athlete must have a yearly heart examination. Any person who wants to start exercising should have a cardiac check BEFORE to discard the existence of any condition that can produce sudden death.

Conditions such as cardiac channelopathies, Wolf Parkinson White, Brugada and hyperthrophic cardiomyopathy can produce sudden death in athletes. This is why it’s so important to detect them before the person begins a workout routine.

¿Which examinations do you need to know your heart’s state before exercising?

#1 Family history evaluation: To assess hereditary risks you must get a chromosomal mutation test. This is mandatory for anyone with a family history of heart disease.

#2 An electrocardiogram: To detect pathologies that can put you at risk of sudden death.

#3 An echocardiogram: To look at the heart from within, the valves, the thickness of the walls and blood flow to identify any coronary problem.

#4 A cardiac stress test: The behavior of the heart is different during rest and exercise, so some conditions can’t be detected during rest. The cardiac stress test checks the blood pressure, heart beats and the existence of arrhythmias during physical activity.

#5 A general physical test: To evaluate your overall health and heart condition.

#6 A holter test: This examination lasts 24 hours and analyzes the behavior of the heart during a day and night.

These tests are available in any health entity and can be used to diagnose any pre-existing heart conditions. Always tell your physician about the medicines you’re consuming.

Who needs to see a doctor before starting to exercise?

Truly, we should ALL see the cardiologist yearly. But, for these people it’s even more important:

#1 People with chest pains or palpitations.

#2 People with fatigue or excessive suffocation.

#3 People with a family history of sudden death or hereditary diseases.

Some recommendations for EVERYONE:

#1 Exercise according to your physical condition. Respect your body and limits.

#2 Don’t exercise after partying or to make your hangover better.
NEVER mix exercise with alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Don’t consume before, after or during. This can cause arrhythmias or even sudden death.

#3 Don’t consume energy drinks or black beverages like Coca Cola, coffee or soda before, during or after exercise.

#4 Rest and sleep properly before exercising. Partying all night long and waking up a couple of hours after to exercise is bad for your system.

#5 Hydrate yourself. Before, during and after physical activity. Staying hydrated is key to your wellbeing.

#6 Eat before exercising. It’s recommended that you eat something before starting your training to prevent the sugar levels on your blood from lowering.

#7 For the weekend athletes: Your exercise routine should be aligned with the amount of movement you maintained during the week. Start off slowly and measure your effort to match how much you move in daily life.

#8 Walking for the heart: I believe that the best exercise is to walk one hour each day. It is a low impact workout that gives you the vitality you need.

In summary: Check your heart BEFORE starting your exercise routine and once a year if you’re an athlete. Walk an hour a day, stay hydrated, maintain a balanced diet and stay away from toxics. Take care of yourself, your body and your heart. Your mind and soul will be grateful.

*Important message: This post includes only recommendations and an offering for you to pay more attention to your health. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your doctor or health institution. This blog doesn’t assume responsibility for any reader’s action. This post is purely informative, it doesn’t prescribe or diagnose anybody.


Photography credits: Andrés Espinosa

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  1. Avatar
    M says:

    ??These are good recommendations for health.Perhaps someone will better monitor their inner well-being after reading this article.?♻??

  2. Avatar
    Ricardo León Rodríguez says:

    Si hay que revisar nuestro corazón antes de practicar atletismo y una vez al año ir donde el cardiólogo los que tratamos.Gracias Paulina por tus concejos para evitar la muerte súbita. Y por favor sigue con tus blog,pues me fascina leerte.

  3. Avatar
    Sami Skyttä says:

    I very sad your dad death.😭