As the month of February comes to a close, so does American Heart Month and National Hockey Week across America. However, to wrap up our blog series highlighting the cardiac experiences of players and coaches alike, we will now focus our attention on expert advice on how hockey players can maintain a healthy heart.
"Good heart health is important for any athlete as a healthy circulatory system can support a high aerobic fitness level, which can improve athletes' performances on the field, ice pool or court," said Jeff Hoffman, Exercise Physiologist for Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Wellness Programs for Mercy Health located in West Michigan.
"Once can theorize that heart health may be even more important for hockey players as they are in constant motion being on skates. Hockey players are also fitted with a number of pads and clothing, adding weight for the player to move around. Additionally, they play in a cold, dry environment, increasing the risk of dehydration during high exertion activity.
"Hoffman says players and teams can and should participate in cardiovascular screening programs. The goal of heart screening is to find anomalies or conditions that may have been missed during a general physical exam. Student athletes who may have a genetic predisposition or family history of heart disease are highly encouraged to participate in the screening process.
However, Hoffman recommends additional ways players can be proactive in their own health onand off the ice.
"Players should try to be physically active all days of the week in addition to their hockey games and practice. They should allow for an adequate amount of sleep and engage in healthy eating habits. Proper nutrition should support their level of energy exerted and caloric intake should be adjusted when they are not as active," Hoffman said.
Athletes should also pay close attention to signs and symptoms that could indicate heart disease, such as:
Unexplained shortness of breath
Syncope or near syncope episode during exercise (passing out)
Palpitations or irregular heartbeats
If you or any of your teammates experience any of these symptoms or if you have a family history of heart disease you should seek medical attention or schedule an appointment for an evaluation as soon as possible.
Although heart disease is the number one killer in America, Hoffman says heart issues are actually not very common amongst athletes.
"Athletes just get more coverage as it is assumed that the person affected was in 'perfect health.' According to the National Collegiate Athlete Association, (NCAA), 1 in 44,000 players have a sudden cardiac death each year," Hoffman said. "The reality is, athletes suffer fewer issues with their heart compared to the general public as athletes maintain a physically active lifestyle. The key is, screening to ensure that it is safe for them to be physically active!"
The health of your heart is ultimately in your hands. Let us know what you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and what steps you take to make sure you, your teammates and coaches are all staying at the top of your game.