Product review: The Haywire Heart book

As many of you know, my dad suffered from a heart attack in February this year and it completely changed the way I view exercise. It is so important to take care of our bodies. I began researching excessive exercise and the heart after his incident. I was shocked at the research I had found and the comments from doctors about it. That’s what spurred my desire to continue to run regularly, but cap my runs at an hour in duration.

I was reading the May issue of Women’s Running magazine and stumbled on this advertisement for The Haywire Heart. I knew I had to read it!

I was shocked that a running magazine had this sort of book advertised in it. Shocked, but definitely glad it was in there. Thankfully Velopress was so kind and sent me a copy to review here.

What’s the verdict? It was quite interesting. I enjoyed reading it, especially all the case studies featured in it. It definitely focuses on people who have been working out hard and long for most of their life. I didn’t however finish the book feeling like I had a clear answer, but moreso just enforced my decision to stop endurance sports now. There is a lot of mixed studies out there and it’s hard to know what to believe. So, once again, I’m just going to lean towards being more conservative and continue with my 1 hour maximum workout duration. The book really is a fantastic read though, and it touches on many different heart conditions that I had previously never read about. So, I definitely learned some new things.

I thought I’d pull 10 excerpts from the book that really stood out to me while reading it…

  1. “…Is exercise good for your heart? Undoubtedly, it is. In fact, it is undeniably the best medicine there is for preventing a host of cardiovascular diseases, as well as a multitude of other diseases. Its documented beneficial results would qualify it as a miracle drug if a pharmaceutical company could figure out how to bottle it. But even miracle drugs have a recommended dosage, and vastly exceeding it is not generally prudent.”
  2. “…if health is your goal, you need not exercise more than 30-60 minutes each day.”
  3. “…they found AF [atrial fibrillation] in 23% of athletes [in a 2009 study] and 12.5% of controls. Their conclusion was that being an endurance athlete increased one’s odds of having AF fivefold.”
  4. “Two factors increased the odds of AF: the number of times doing the race [referring to a cross-country ski race in a study], and faster finishing times. Racers who completed five races were 29% more likely to have AF than those who completed one. Athletes with the fastest finishing time were 30% more likely to have AF than those in the slowest group.”
  5. “Intense and prolonged sessions of exercise can cause a release of troponin into the bloodstream. Intensity, more than duration of exercise, may be a key factor in troponin release. For instance, the incidence of post race troponin elevations was lower in ultramarathon finishers than in marathon finishers.” [Troponin is a group of three proteins that regulate muscle contraction of skeletal and cardiac muscle. The presence of troponin in the blood system is an indicator of cardiac cell damage.]
  6. “No one knows for sure why troponin is released after prolonged exercise. Two possible explanations include an increase in heart muscle permeability (leaky cells) and cell death. Neither sounds good.”
  7. “The ‘marathon rats’ developed an increased susceptibility to induced ventricular arrhythmias, RV chamber dilation, and weakness and enhanced scarring within the ventricles, which the researchers assessed by autopsy after the experiment. Ventricular tachycardia could be induced in 5 of the 12 exercised rats (42%) and only 1 of 16 sedentary rats (6%).”
  8. “These findings, therefore, supported the idea that an ARVC-like disease could be acquired through intense exercise without an identifiable genetic susceptibility.” (page 104 if you’d like to read the findings)
  9. “It is true that regular exercise favors health, but it is also true that vigorous exercise greatly increases the short-term risk of coronary events — up to 16-fold in one huge study of male physicians.”
  10. “The relationship between alcohol and AF is linear — The more one drinks, the more likely AF is to occur.”

There were other statements made that running half and full marathons were associated with low overall risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death. It’s just one of those things. What to believe? I’m going with my gut feeling. Mine told me enough was enough.

If you’re interested in reading the book, it may be purchased on Amazon (price is currently $15.81 for hardcover, but fluctuates). There is a Kindle version available for $13.99 as well.

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