Seemingly fit individuals in Singapore have been known to suddenly collapse while participating in endurance sports. We ask cardiologist Dr Julian Tan how a runner can spot the warning signs, even before embarking on training for such energysapping activities like marathons.
1. WHAT SHOULD AN UNTRAINED SPORTSMAN DO TO PREPARE FOR ENDURANCE SPORTS?
Those who have led sedentary lifestyles and now want to take on such demanding activities should consider a thorough heart screening – even before preparing for the marathon. This is particularly important for someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, who smokes, has a history of stroke, or a family history of sudden cardiac death.
The cardiologist conducting the initial cardiac screening test – which includes an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an exercise treadmill test – will assess if additional tests like echocardiography or a computerised tomography (CT) scan of the heart arteries should be done.
2. CAN ANYONE WITH UNSUITABLE TEST RESULTS FROM THE ABOVE STILL PREPARE FOR MARATHONS?
It really depends on the heart condition of the individual. For example, after narrowed arteries are treated appropriately with stents, a person can safely do endurance sports. But those with thickened heart muscle, for example, should refrain because there is no real cure for this condition.
When untreated, heart conditions like thickening of the heart muscles, narrowed heart arteries and abnormal heart valves can be dangerous, if a person embarks on endurance sports like a marathon.
And yes, people with these heart conditions may even look healthy on the outside.
3. SOME STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT ENDURANCE SPORTS LIKE LONGDISTANCE RUNNING CAN CAUSE A BUILD-UP OF SCAR TISSUE ON THE HEART. HOW CAN THIS BE PREVENTED?
The thickening of heart muscles – or the muscles becoming too big – can be caused by endurance sports. But this is a rare occurrence with no specific preventive measures to take. My only advice – commit to regular, moderate exercise and embark on endurance sports only after a thorough heart screening.