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The Effect Of Athletics On The Heart

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: 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 i
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.