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What dangers await for the heart of a lifter?

Sep. 24, 2018 13:10

The heart is our motor. When going for sports, it inevitably suffers some pressure. Depending on the volume and intensity of such impact the heart may be strengthened or conversely weaken.

As for me lifters are in the highest risk group as their heart diseases can be caused by both unhealthy lifestyle and enormous workout plan.

Many researches would agree that lifters push their bodies to the absolute physiological limit. Take the bench press as an example. When you pile on the plates, the pressure of the weight is transmitted throughout the chest forcing the heart to increase its pressure in order to continue pumping blood. 

Doctors who have measured the blood pressure of elite-level lifters recorded systolic readings in excess of 300 mmHg during an all-out lift.

Strongmen often suffer nosebleed while on tournaments. Just remember Russian Mikhail Shivlyakov, who suffered a gruesome nosebleed while smashing an incredible 426kg deadlift at the Arnold Classic USA this year. 

For Dr. Jonathan Overdevest of the Stanford University School of Medicine, it is not uncommon to see bleeding from the nose or another body part as blood vessels burst under the tremendous amount of pressure during a monstrous lift. 

“In Shivlyakov’s case, his deadlift probably first raised the intra-thoracic pressure — the pressure in his chest cavity — which naturally increases during exhalation. This, in turn, would increase his venous blood pressure (the pressure of the blood as it returns to the heart from the rest of the body), which would lead to an increase in arterial pressure (the pressure of blood as it leaves the heart). This increased pressure can at times cause the fragile vessels that supply our nasal mucosa to rupture, resulting in a nosebleed,” Overdevest explains.

The heart of a lifter

Cardiologist Dr. Dave Ancona believes it is essential for lifters to undergo regular heart screening tests because heavy lifting has a direct impact on the aorta, the heart's main artery. 

“When you lift more than half your body weight you put an immense strain on your aorta, causing it to tear in some places.” 

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For those predisposed to aortic issues, any activity that can seriously spike blood pressure can kill you. Symptoms of a torn aorta are very similar to experiencing a stroke. You will feel a sharp and stabbing pain which subsequently leads to nausea and light-headedness. When you already have an enlarged aorta, the elevated blood pressure that occurs during weight training may lead to heart failure."

“If you have a family history of heart problems and you are regularly lifting heavy weights you need to be aware of aortic dissection, which occurs when the wall of the aorta splits,” says Ancona. 

When the aortic wall splits, blood enters the heart, causing the pain. The condition can be lethal unless surgery is performed as soon as possible. 

“There is a debate about heavy and low training intensities in many exercise physiology laboratories and local gyms,” says Ancona. “When the goal is to gain strength and muscle mass, it is recommended that heavy training is the right way to go. However, research has shown that doing a high number of reps with light weights can also effectively maximise muscle size and strength.” 

Ancona suggests not doing one rep lifts and not straining or holding your breath while exercising.

Do what your doctor advises

“Guided, moderate weight training has significant benefits on people with heart disease,” says Mark Williams, Ph.D., who wrote an article on the subject that was published in the journal Circulation. 

According to Muscle Evolution, he found that resistance training did not exceed the exertion of standard exercise tests. It demonstrated that moderate weight lifting could be tolerated by some heart failure patients and may even improve their condition in the long-run. 

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Exercise has a beneficial effect on all organs in the body – the brain, heart, liver, vascular system and, of course, on the muscles. But not everyone can lift weights. 

“While it is true that weight training can help lower your blood pressure, those with major hypertension or high blood pressure may need to avoid lifting weights depending on what their doctor advises.”

Weightlifting should be banned for those suffering from:

  • Unstable coronary heart disease
  • Congestive heart failurу
  • Severe pulmonary hypertension
  • Severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis
  • Acute infection
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Aortic dissection
  • Marfan syndrome

"If you're concerned, discuss your heart health and lifting regimen with your physician. Heavy lifting on compound exercises such as the squat, bench or deadlift can lead to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke in those who are already at risk. If you are older than 45, have high cholesterol, hypertension or a family history of cardiovascular disease, there could be trouble,” warns Williams.

Another habit lifters usually do is tricking with breath. Doctors suggest not holding your breath when you take the strain from lifting weights. 

“You should exhale during the contraction (exertion) phase of the lift and inhale during the relaxation phase.” 

Williams sounds a warning bell that people who already have a mild enlargement of the aorta may cause worse consequences while another strength training and weightlifting. Serious weight trainers should consider having an ultrasound evaluation of the heart that can determine whether their aorta is enlarged.

Overall recommendations

“Early detection is key,” says electrophysiologist Dr. Mario Pascual, who specialises in cardiovascular disease. 

“Our understanding of abnormal heart arrhythmia itself is much better than it was ten years ago. We’ve had technological improvements like the electronic mapping catheter that recreates the three-dimensional structure of the heart. The catheters have sensitive sensors to tell us how much pressure we’re putting on the heart.” 

According to Pascual, numerous studies are showing that regular lifting sessions at moderate levels can boost heart health and lower blood pressure. “Paying attention to your body is of the utmost importance.” 

Ancona believes prevention is vital, but the nature of heart disease can make that difficult. “Sometimes heart issues occur with no symptoms,” he says. “And when people think they’re getting older and they’re more accepting of diminished physical ability, it’s hard to get them to come to the doctor. But any onset of new symptoms related to physical stamina or breathing ought to be evaluated and not accepted as the consequences of maturity.”

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