Cardiology and exercise - what is sports cardiology?

Written by: Professor Sanjay Sharma
Edited by: Jay Staniland

We all know that exercise is good for the heart, and is encouraged when it comes to living a healthy life. Regular exercise can help to reduce the risk of a whole host of medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even depression.

This said, there are some heart conditions that can be induced through exercise, and as a cardiologist it is important to work together with those who practise sport, especially athletes, to monitor their health and watch for any indicators of heart problems. It should be noted, however, that the benefits of exercise eclipse the risks by a great degree. Sports medicine works hard to prevent cardiac related death and occurrences are rare.

Can exercise be bad for your heart? 

Exercise related heart problems can affect different people in different ways. In middle aged adults, the most frequently made association is coronary artery disease, which often is connected to those with a family history of heart attacks, or smokers.

However, in the young, cases are slightly different. Sports cardiology in this age group usually deals with uncommon heart conditions that can cause major complications when exercising. These range from arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), to abnormalities in the heart structure or the heart muscles.

What does a sports cardiologist do?

Specialists in sports cardiology work closely with patients, especially athletes, to monitor the heart and check for risk of cardiac complications. Conditions can be diagnosed through looking at family history, medical background, and a combination of tests such as echocardiogram, or measuring the heart rhythm during exercise.

Can you play sport with a heart defect?

When inherited or congenital heart defects are detected, it doesn’t necessarily mean an end to sport and activity for the individual, as in some cases, lifestyle modifications, pharmaceutical remedy, and surgical options can allow a continuation of a relatively active lifestyle. These days, more is being done to identify people who are potentially at risk of heart disease or defects.

It is important to remember that exercise is not something to be avoided – research shows that those who do sport, on average, live six years longer than those who do not. Sports and regular exercise has countless beneficial effects on a number of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and heart disease.

Sports cardiology aims to monitor existing conditions, and work together with athletes to reduce the risk of cardiac complications. Work is being done to ensure that the right steps are taken to ensure the safety of athletes, and to provide all young people participating in sport at any level with cardiac screening, and any defects are identified as soon as possible.

To make an appointment with a specialist sports cardiologist, click here.

By Professor Sanjay Sharma

Professor Sanjay Sharma is a highly-reputable cardiologist based in London. He specialises in inherited cardiac diseases, sports cardiology and cardiomyopathy and has a special interest in echocardiography and sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS).  He practices at St Georges Healthcare NHS Trust and other prominent clinics in the capital.

Throughout his career Professor Sharma has used his sports cardiology expertise in roles with some of the UK's biggest sports organisations. He serves as Chair of the Expert Cardiac Committee for the Football Association (FA) and as a cardiac advisor for the British Lawn Tennis Association and British Rugby League. He is also a medical director for Virgin London Marathon, BUPA 10k London, Prudential Ride London and the International Triathlon World Championships. He has been a cardiologist for the Olympic Medical Institute since 2001 and was the lead cardiologist at the London 2012 Olympics.

Professor Sharma is committed to research and training, he is the head of research and professor of inherited cardiac diseases and sports cardiology for St George's University. He is also a senior tutor and lecturer for the Royal College of Physicians and examiner for both St George's and Brighton and Sussex Medical schools. He has written over 20 medical book chapters and haw presented his research findings in over 400 peer-reviewed articles for medical journals.

He has won numerous prizes, including the McGill prize in surgery, two national clinical excellence awards, St George's Excellence in Education Award and the prestigious ESC Vivianne Conraads Outstanding Academic Achievement Award.

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