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During physical exercise, the body’s cells require more oxygen to be supplied through the bloodstream. For athletes who exercise regularly – that is, in excess of one hour per day – sustained, high demand for oxygen causes the brain to signal for the heart to increase the amount of blood pumped (cardiac output).
Athletic heart syndrome (also known as athlete’s heart) is a condition in which the heart is enlarged, due to significant exercise. It is more common in those who partake in aerobic exercise, and especially in endurance sports.
The enlargement of the heart is the body’s natural adaptation to pump larger amounts of blood at higher pressures. Increases can be observed in the size of the chamber, as well as the density and thickness of the muscular wall.
As the heart’s capacity increases, it can maintain the necessary rest level of cardiac output with a lower pumping rate. For this reason, individuals with athlete’s heart will often have a lower resting heart rate than non-athletes.