Heart Health Q & A
An elite athlete seems to drop dead of heart failure every year. Why?
First, cardiac arrest in fit young athletes is a rare phenomenon that guarantees media attention. Still, Dr. Steven Van Camp, a sports cardiologist at UC Irvine Medical Center, says, "If it prompts athletes to call their doctor and get a long-overdue health check, that's not necessarily bad." Likely culprits? Congenital problems or coronary-artery disease, which a thorough exam can reveal. "The person who gets into trouble is the person who has a condition and doesn't know it or has a condition and doesn't deal with it,"says Van Camp.
Here are two easy ways to get a quick measure of heart health.
(1) Go to the National Institutes of Health's online risk-assessment calculator (hp2010.nhlbihin.net/
atpiii/calculator.asp) to learn your odds of having a heart attack within the next ten years.
(2) How quickly your heart recovers from exercise is also a good indicator. Give yourself this simple test, based on a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Step 1: Run for ten minutes at a moderate to vigorous pace (fast enough that it's difficult to carry on a conversation). Immediately after stopping, check your heart rate (count beats per minute with a watch or use a heart-rate monitor).
Step 2: After the initial reading, wait one minute and calculate your heart rate again.
Step 3: Do the math. Your heart rate should have dropped by at least 25 beats per minute. If it didn't, you should see a cardiologist and make some lifestyle changes. In the NEJM study, participants whose heart rate dropped fewer than 25 beats per minute were more likely to suffer heart attacks.