Psychology Magazine

Shape of Your Heart is Determined by Whether You Run Or Sit.

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
Shave et al. show that endurance runners and farmers have larger, elongated left ventricles with thin walls (traits that help pump large volumes of blood for a long time) compared with football linemen, whose training emphasizes short, high-intensity exercise. Linemen, as well has sedentary people, have shorter, wider ventricles with thicker walls and are more prone to hypertensive heart disease. Their experiments used ultrasound imaging to examine the hearts of more than 160 adult men from four groups: long-distance runners, sedentary adults, highly trained football linemen, and the Tarahumara, Native American farmers renowned for their running ability.
Abstract
Chimpanzees and gorillas, when not inactive, engage primarily in short bursts of resistance physical activity (RPA), such as climbing and fighting, that creates pressure stress on the cardiovascular system. In contrast, to initially hunt and gather and later to farm, it is thought that preindustrial human survival was dependent on lifelong moderate-intensity endurance physical activity (EPA), which creates a cardiovascular volume stress. Although derived musculoskeletal and thermoregulatory adaptations for EPA in humans have been documented, it is unknown if selection acted similarly on the heart. To test this hypothesis, we compared left ventricular (LV) structure and function across semiwild sanctuary chimpanzees, gorillas, and a sample of humans exposed to markedly different physical activity patterns. We show the human LV possesses derived features that help augment cardiac output (CO) thereby enabling EPA. However, the human LV also demonstrates phenotypic plasticity and, hence, variability, across a wide range of habitual physical activity. We show that the human LV’s propensity to remodel differentially in response to chronic pressure or volume stimuli associated with intense RPA and EPA as well as physical inactivity represents an evolutionary trade-off with potential implications for contemporary cardiovascular health. Specifically, the human LV trades off pressure adaptations for volume capabilities and converges on a chimpanzee-like phenotype in response to physical inactivity or sustained pressure loading. Consequently, the derived LV and lifelong low blood pressure (BP) appear to be partly sustained by regular moderate-intensity EPA whose decline in postindustrial societies likely contributes to the modern epidemic of hypertensive heart disease.

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