Why Would Couch Potatoes Read the Book “The Haywire Heart”?

[Exercise] is undeniably the best medicine there is for preventing a host of cardiovascular diseases….Its documented beneficial results would qualify it as a miracle drug if a pharmaceutical company could figure out how to bottle it….Can there be too much of a good thing? Quite possibly…. (p. xxxi)


Chris Case, John Mandola, MD, and Lennard Zinn. The Haywire Heart: How too Much Exercise can Kill You, and What You can do to Protect Your Heart. Velo Press: Boulder, CO [2017].

A book with a title containing the phrase “too much exercise” is definitely one no couch potato could walk by in a bookstore without picking up. A closer look at the book, however, makes clear this book is about too much exercise for those people couch potatoes find unfathomable—endurance athletes. Those who seem to get high from hours of riding bikes up mountains or running marathons.

“…there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that long-term endurance exercise can have negative consequences for your heart….We’re talking about a highly elevated level of exercise that is not only extremely intense but often competitive and is performed for years, if not decades.” (p. 6)

All three authors of this book have been endurance athletes at some time in their lives. They have first-hand experience with its long-term effect on the heart, which they warn can lead to possibly deadly heart conditions. Unfortunately, because endurance athletes are so used to pushing themselves, they often ignore the early indications that their hearts are showing signs of stress.

In our current social environment, exercise is almost a mantra of the health conscious. The subject of the “athlete’s heart” has received little attention and until recently, was a relatively unrecognized phenomenon. The authors provide not just the research, but also the stories of endurance athletes whose physical exercise stressed their hearts to the point of misfiring. They began to exhibit some of the same signs of heart problems as their nemesis, the couch potato.

Are endurance athletes hurting their hearts by repeatedly pushing beyond what is normal? Just maybe, and there is a sad and tragic irony in the paradox that those at the highest level of performance could be beset by similar types of heart disease that afflict those who are sedentary or obese, or who smoke. (p. xxxi)

Since sports are not my thing, I had no idea so many athletes had had to give up their endurance exercise or face a high probability of dying sooner rather than later. Indeed, for couch potatoes, the good news is that the “dose of exercise that promotes good health is surprisingly small.” (p. 6)

“The take-home message from these findings is that if health is your goal, you need not exercise more than 30-60 minutes each day.” (p. 7)

Neither an athlete nor a physician, I found this book remarkable. I have never seen such a detailed explanation of how the heart works and how current is produced in the body to keep the heart working—at least that I could understand.

Sometimes experts are so knowledgeable in their subject they can’t explain things well to novices. In technical writing, this is called the “knowledge effect.” The authors of this book seem to be aware of exactly what information their readers need to know to understand their explanations of how the heart works and how it can go “haywire” electrically.

Obviously, the primary audience for this book is endurance athletes. Lennard Zinn authored the chapters on how the heart works and the notable issues regarding athlete’s hearts, as well as contributed to other chapters. Chris Case wrote the introduction and epilogue and collaborated with the other two authors on parts of the book. Dr. Mandrola, a cardiac electophysiologist, besides collaborating with the other two authors, provided a chapter on how to assess the reader’s particular situation with heart arrhythmias, from diagnosis to treatment options. Here is a step-by-step guide to what anyone, athlete or couch potato, needs to know to talk treatment options with his or her physician.

Anyone trying to understand how the heart works could benefit from the explanation in this book. Anyone trying to wade through all the exercise recommendations of this workout or that one could use this book. And of course, anyone, athlete or couch potato, with arrhythmia should have this book. The information here could save a life.

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