This is an interesting article. The article states that the human heart evolved for endurance. The study measured and compared heart function in more than 160 study participants. The subjects were divided between sedentary people, American football players, elite runners, and indigenous subsistence farmers. For the indigenous farmers, they used the Tarahumara tribe from Mexico’s Copper Canyons known for long-distance running and a mostly plant-based diet.
They also briefly mentioned how chimpanzees, our closest primate relatives, mainly engage in short, burst of intense activity (such as climbing and fighting) that put pressure on the heart for a limited period of time. These short bursts of activity make the heart have thicker and stiffer walls. Then they contrasted how humans participated in longer bouts of endurance activity (such as hunting, gathering, and farming) before the Industrial Revolution began.
The lead author of the study, Aaron L. Baggish, MD, stated, “Humans have longer, thinner, and more flexible-walled hearts while chimps have smaller hearts with thicker walls.”
The researchers measured blood pressure and used ultrasound to measure the hearts of the study participants.
The study found that human hearts are better suited for endurance than short bouts of activity. The researchers said that endurance runners have longer, larger and more elastic left ventricles in their hearts. In contrast, sedentary people, even as children, have hearts similar to chimpanzees better suited for short bursts of activity.
This study provides a lot of insight about the human heart. The human heart is suited for long-distance activity such as running, swimming, and cycling. And sedentary people have hearts similar to our closest relatives: chimpanzees. Supposedly, because short bursts of activity can make the heart’s walls thicker and stiffer, this could increase the risk of high blood pressure.
I do like to point out that not all short bursts of activity are bad. We have a sympathetic nervous system that we rely on for a fight-or-flight response if we are ever in danger and we need to either run away or fight. As a former martial artist, it is important to defend yourself in a situation where you cannot run away. That is why I encourage adults and children alike to take martial arts so they could defend themselves. However, if we rely too much on our sympathetic nervous system continuously (like in chronic stress), that can be bad for our heart. We also have a parasympathetic nervous system, which allows us to relax and rest.
I also wanted to point out that we should not discourage anyone from playing ball sports, which mostly require short bursts of activity. Even ball sports (football, soccer, etc.) require a lot of endurance and stamina. For example, a football player has to play for all four quarters of the game. Each quarter is 15 minutes, so football players have to play for 60 full minutes. That does take a lot of endurance and stamina.
In addition, if you are active in general (whether it’s endurance activities like running or ball sports such as soccer) and you eat a healthy, whole-foods vegan diet, you will less likely die of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a vegan. Also, at least 11 football players on the Tennessee Titans defense are vegan. Short bursts of activity are only bad if you do not eat a whole-foods vegan diet and if you are sedentary most of the time. Diet was definitely not a factor in this study.
I also would like to point out that the Tarahumara Indians who were in this study eat a mostly plant-based diet. Meat is only 5% of their diet and they eat it on special occasions or if a hunting opportunity shows up, such as an animal they can hunt for food. The other 95% are beans, corn, greeens, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, tamale, fruits, and wheat.
This study is one of the reasons I eat a whole-foods vegan diet and do endurance activities like running and swimming.