Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Heart and Lung Function and Exercise

Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Heart and Lung Function and Exercise

Alex Ackermann v Jimmy Long at the Texas Longhorn Open
Alex Ackermann v Jimmy Long at the Texas Longhorn Open

Racquetball players tend to be quite fit and this in large part is due to good heart and lung function.  Cardio-respiratory health is an integral part of health promotion and racquetball provides an excellent forum for this.
  The heart is a four-chambered organ which receives blood from the veins of the body to the right side of the heart.  The blood passes through valves from the right atrium into the right ventricle and then the blood is pumped out into the lungs.  The lungs have a rich blood vessel network which transports oxygen into the blood vessels.  The blood then carries the oxygen into the left side of the heart by way of the left atrium.  It then passes into the left ventricle which is the workhorses of the heart and is pumped out to the remainder of the body to other organs.  The heart has an intricate electrical system governed by the sinoatrial node and A/V node in the right side of the heart.  This electrical system couples the atrial and ventricular beat in a very smooth uniform pattern to move the blood in the right direction at the right pace efficiently.  An enlarged heart valvular problems or damage to the heart and lungs may foul up this system.
To maximize heart function one should strive to maintain 60-80% of the maximal predicted heart rate during exercise.  Your maximal predicated heart rate is obtained by subtracting your age from the number 200.  You should attain 60-80% of this number for at least 30 minutes four times per week for adequate cardiovascular work-outs.  As the heart improves efficiency, it requires fewer beats per minute to pump out the same volume of blood.  This is because the heart works more efficiently and results in a lower heart rate.  The normal heart rate is 60-100 and in trained athletes we often see rates into the 40’s.  Lung function can be maximized by regular workouts and the avoidance of toxins such as cigarette smoke.  Passive secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke may also cause noticeable changes in the lungs.  As we strive to reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and reduce smoking, we find that disease of the coronary arteries, which feed the heart, is less severe.  This, too, results in a healthy functioning heart with an adequate blood supply.  Symptoms related to poor heart and lung function include shortness of breath, trouble breathing while lying down, chest pain, and shortness of breath during exertion.  There are many tests to determine lung function and heart function capabilities.  These are often expensive and unnecessary.  The best way to follow your heart function is through your heart rate where you will notice a lower pulse rate as you improve your fitness.  Lung function may be evaluated roughly by trying to blow out a candle from a distance.  As your lung function improves, you should notice that your distance increases.
If you have a history of heart disease in your family or you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or chest pain, you should be evaluated by a physician prior to taking up heavy workouts.  A physician can give you safety information as well as an exercise prescription to follow.
By:  Richard Honaker, MD