A position of special importance was given to the
heart since the earliest times.
Expressions such as “sacred heart”, “I love you with all my heart”,
“change of heart”, “sweetheart”, “heartache”, etc., remain in our language and
role played by the heart in ancient philosophy.
The heart was even regarded as the location of conscious thought before
the brain assumed it rightful position in more recent times.
Fascination with the heart has also spawned an
industry that has captured the attention of health entrepreneurs and the public
– long, slow distance athleticism.
Cardiac health and prolonged longevity came to be regarded as the result
of “aerobic” exercise. The emergent
cardiovascular doctrine deemed all non-aerobic exercise such as weight training
to be of little consequence in promoting cardiac health. In fact, some of the most thorough research
to analyze the effect of exercise on cardiac health revealed that vigorous
exercise significantly reduces the risk of the first heart attack, irrespective
of the type of activity.
The author of this study, Dr. R. Paffenbarger of
Stanford University, examined two different population over many decades: Harvard University graduates who exercised in their
leisure time, and San Francisco longshoremen who exercised vigorously as part
of their work. He discovered that the
risk of fatal heart attacks among longshoremen was reduced by 50% for a weekly
energy expenditure of over 9,000 calories.
The Harvard study revealed that men who climbed at least 50 steps each
working day displayed a 20% lower risk of first heart attack.
All one may conclude from the studies done to
date is that regular, vigorous physical activity, irrespective of type appears
to have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
The early phases of this type of
cardio-protective training would be devoted to long, slow “aerobic” activity,
while the later stages would involve intervals of short-burst sprint,
stair-climbing and weights activity, or participation in appropriate high
intensity, interval-type sports.
While cardiac research has yielded invaluable
information on understanding and caring for the heart, it is clear that there
is much that we still have to discover.
As answers emerge, not only will cardiac patients benefit but also those
who seek to push the boundaries of human performance further.