Training for a Heart Attack
A little effort can pay life-changing dividends
Preventing heart attacks, which are the leading cause of death in the industrialized world, would require a massive -and impractical- lifestyle change. So Auburn kinesiologist John Quindry has decided to be pragmatic; he’s working on how we can survive a heart attack.
In a heart attack, an arterial blockage interrupts the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Ischemia. If the blockage persists, heart muscle can die. But restoration of blood flow to oxygen-deprived tissue produces an inflammatory response that can also kill heart muscle. That’s a reperfusion injury. And once heart tissue is gone, it doesn’t repair itself.
Looking at EKGs taken during and after heart attacks, Quindry discovered some hearts are more resistant to injury than others, and what makes the difference is a little bit of exercise. Exercise alters the subtle factors that are part of the day-to-day maintenance of heart cells. And that alteration can literally be the difference between life and death.
What’s surprising is how little that little bit of exercise is. Going for a walk just a few days a week seems to protect the heart —a small lifestyle change that’s easy to make. “The only practical and sustainable countermeasure capable of providing cardioprotection is regular endurance exercise,” says Quindry. “Indeed, studies demonstrate that regular exercise reduces the risk of death from myocardial ischemia-reperfusion insult. We want to understand the mechanisms of that protection.”
In other words, we know exercise works, but Quindry hasn’t yet discovered the details of how it works. He’s hoping to find the mechanisms in the body that can be targeted with medication. So far, he’s uncovered several possibilities. Exercise increases circulation, produces beneficial proteins, elevates levels of anti-oxidants and improves the chemical pathways that deliver electrolytes to heart tissue.
He’s working hard, but until he figures it out completely, his best prescription for living through a heart attack is to run from it.
For Dr. Quindry’s full CV, please visit his Web site.