Following a study in 2012 that saw Belgian scientists conclude that repeated intensive endurance exercise may result in damages to cardiovascular health, researchers from Saarland University have now tested this theory.
The sports medicine physicians did so by examining the hearts of elite endurance athletes. These new findings contest the theory proposed by researchers in Belgium.
This new research team found no evidence that years of elite-level endurance training could cause long-term damage to the right ventricle.
There have been several reports in the media of the sudden cardiac death of endurance athletes. The most recent case being that of Dutch professional cyclist Gijs Verdick, who died a week after suffering a double heart attack during a race.
Researchers from the original study in 2012 observed there was slight enlargement and reduced functionality of the right ventricle in athletes who had taken part in several hours of competitive endurance sport. However, it was not made clear as to whether this acute enlargement did in fact lead to a potentially life threatening condition.
Sport scientists at the Saarbrücken Institute of Sports and Preventive Medicine had been examining elite athletes for a number of years. In that time the researchers had never found evidence to support the research done by the Belgian team, which led them to challenge the previous study.
The new study examined 33 elite athletes and compared them to a control group of 33 men, both groups similar in age, size and weight. However, the control group had never participated in any kind of endurance exercise. Whereas, the group of athletes had been training at elite level for about 30 years and still continued to train on average for around 17 hours a week.
The scientists were able to confirm that the athletes’ hearts were significantly larger and stronger than the members of the control group. Dr Phillip Bohm who led the study said ‘But we found no evidence of lasting damage, pathological enlargement or functional impairment of either the right or left ventricle in the athletes who had been doing long-term intensive elite-level endurance exercise.’