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The Effect Of Athletics On The Heart

Category: Uncategorized
Source: Disturbances Of The Heart

We can no longer neglect the seriousness of the effects of
competitive athletics on the heart, especially in youth and young
adults. Not only universities and preparatory schools, but also high
schools and even grammar schools must consider the advisability of
continuing competitive sports without more control than is now the
case. In the first place, the individual is likely to be trained in
one particular branch or in one particular line, which develops one
particular set of muscles. In the second place, competition to
exhaustion, to vomiting, faintness, and even syncope is absolutely
inexcusable. Furthermore, contests which partake of brutality should
certainly be seriously censored.

A committee appointed some time ago by the Medical Society of the
State of California [Footnote: California State Med. Jour., June,
1916 p. 220.] has recently reported its endorsement of Foster's
"Indictment of Intercollegiate Athletics." After five years of
personal observation of no less than 100 universities and colleges,
in thirty-eight states, Foster concludes that intercollegiate
athletics have proved a failure, and that they are costly and
injurious on account of an excessive physical training of a few
students, and of such students as need training least, while
healthful and moderate exercise at a small expense for all students
is most needed.

Experts, [Footnote: Rubner and Kraus: Vrtljsehr. f. gerichtl. Med,
1914, xlviii, 304.] appointed by the Prussian government to
investigate athletics, reported that for physical exercise to be of
real value it must be quite different from the preparation of a
specially equipped individual trained for a game. Exercise should
benefit all children and youth, while athletic prowess necessitates
taxing the organism to the limit of endurance, and hence is
dangerous and should not be allowed in schools or universities.

McKenzie [Footnote: McKenzie: Am. Jour. Med. Sc., January, 1913, p.
69.] found that exhausting tests of endurance were not adapted to
the development of children and youth, because the high blood
pressure caused by such exertion soon continued, and he found
athletes to have a prolonged increased blood pressure. As is
recognized by all, boat racing is particularly bad, especially the
4-mile row. Such severe exertion of course increases the blood
pressure, even in these athletes, and the heart increases its speed.
There is then exhilaration, later discomfort, and soon, as McKenzie
points out, a sensation of constriction in the chest and head. This
is soon followed by breathlessness, and soon by a feeling of fulness
in the head, and then syncope. The heart, of course, becomes
dilated. Heart murmurs are often found after much less severe
exertion than boat racing. They may not last long, or they may
disappear under proper treatment. He reported that after exercise
there were heart murmurs in seventy-four of 266 young men who were
in normal health, and that nearly 28 per cent of all normal young
men will show a murmur after exercise. He thinks that it is rare to
find, after a week, a heart murmur in a previously healthy heart, if
the athlete has not passed the age of 30.

There can be no doubt that even one, to say nothing of more, such
heart strains is inexcusable and may leave a more or less lasting
injury. Such heart strains and exertions are not entirely seen in
athletes. A man otherwise well may cause such a heart strain by
cranking his automobile, by pumping up a tire, by strenuous lifting,
by carrying a load too far or too rapidly, or by running, and an
elderly man may even cause such a heart strain by walking, hill
climbing, or even golfing, if he does these things. More or less
acute dilatation occurring in such persons is likely to recur on the
least exertion, unless the patient takes a prolonged rest cure and
the heart is so well that it recuperates perfectly. Any chronic
myocarditis, however, may prevent such a heart from ever being as
perfect as it was before.

Torgersen, [Footnote: Torgersen: Norsk Mag. f. Laegevidensk., April,
1914.] after making 600 examinations of 200 athletes, and 1,200
examinations of members of the rowing crew, decides that it is
absolutely essential that there should be skilled daily examinations
of every man during training, and a record kept of the condition of
his heart, urine, and blood pressure, before and after exercise.
When he found albumin in the urine it was always accompanied by a
falling of the blood pressure and a rapid heart, with loss of weight
and a general feeling of debility.

Middleton [Footnote: Middleton: Am. Jour. Med. Sc., September, 1915,
p. 426.] examined students who were training for football, both
during the training and after the training period, and found that
after the rest succeeding a training period there was an increased
systolic and diastolic blood pressure over the records of before the
training period. This would tend to indicate some hypertrophy of the

Insurance statistics seem to show that athletes are likely to have
earlier cardiovascular-renal disease than other individuals of the
same class and occupations.

Next: Suggestions For The Control Of Athletics

Previous: Tests Of Heart Strength

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