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It is well known that sport, healthy nutrition, and sufficient recovery are good for a healthy body. What does that exactly mean ? Which adaptations does sport cause in our body ?
Different stimuli to the body cause different changes. Regarding stamina sport, i.e., and its effect on the heart, a lot of changes in cardiovascular system can be observed.

The heart beats 3 to 4 billion times in the course of a life.
Like any other muscle, your heart is strengthened by sport as well. The stronger the heart, the less it has to work to supply the body sufficiently with blood. The less frequent a heart is beating, the less it is stressed. The cardiovascular system is relieved and your heart remains healthier.


Cardiovascular sizes and their signs of adaptation by stamina sport:

Heart size/heart volume:

Heart size is measured by means of heart volume.


not exercised


absolute heart volume



appr 750 ml

appr 500 ml

900 - 1500 ml

-1100 ml

relative heart volume



10.5 ml/kg

9.5 ml/kg

13 - 20 ml/kg

12 - 20 ml/kg

Besides an increased heart volume, stamina training can also cause thickening of the heart muscle.

Heart weight (absolute and relative):

Values collected by medical methods for approximate determination of heart muscle mass and described heart weight.


not exercised


Heart weight (absolute)



320 g

280 g

- 600 g

Heart weight (relative)



appr. 4.6 g/kg

appr. 4.6 g/kg

7.5 g/kg

7.0 g/kg

A heart weight from 500g onwards is called critical. A non-pathological growth of heart, caused by physical training (above all stamina sport), is called a sport heart. Such a sport heart produces the same performance for lower heart rate (compared to normal heart).

Resting heart rate

Resting heart rate describes heart rate in physical rest. It differs from human being to human being and can be reduced by stamina training.
Resting heart rate is an indicator of fitness level for athletes. The better exercised, the quicker drops heart rate after an exertion towards value of rest. The body recovers much quicker.
Women have a higher heart rate at rest and in exertion compared to men, because they differ regarding heart size. The smaller the heart, the higher is the heart rate at rest.

  • New-born: appr. 130 beats/min

  • Child and adolescent: appr. 90 beats/min

  • Adult: appr. 60 - 90 beats/min

  • Serious athlete: appr. 40 beats/min

An increased resting heart rate can be an indicator for infection, over-training or a training intensity too high.
Maximum heart rate does not change by training or under exertion.

Stroke volume (SV):

The amount of blood released by a heart chamber into the body during systole (expulsive phase of heart).
Stroke volume depends upon size of heart and body position. In lying position, venous return is relieved. A better starting filling of heart chambers can be realized before expulsive phase.

Normal heart

Sport heart

at rest

70 - 100 ml

physical exertion

100 - 120 ml

- 200 ml

Compared to heart rate, increase in stroke volume under physical exertion remains nearly constant. SV at rest and for physical exertion is enlarged for stamina athletes.

Cardiac output (= CO):

Amount of blood released by a heart per minute.
The cardiac output is heart rate (per min) multiplied by stroke volume (CO = HR x SV). CO increases with increasing heart rate

Maximum exertion

Resting value

not exercised

exercised (stamina)


5 - 6 l/min

20 - 25 l/min

30 - 40 l/min


5 - 6 l/min

12 - 14 l/min

20 - 30 l/min

Maximum oxygen capacity (VO2max):

Oxygen capacity describes the amount of oxygen the organism consumes or transforms within the scope of energy supply in tissues within a minute.

The maximum relative value indicates how many millilitres of oxygen the body can use per minute (for maximum workout). Indication in millilitre per minute (ml O2/ min/kg).

not exercised



3.0 - 3.5 l/ min

5 - 6 l/min


30 - 50 ml/min/kg

bis 80 - 90 ml/min/kg

VO2max can be used as criterion for evaluating aerobic stamina fitness. Cardiac output decreases with advancing age (standard values above are of twenty to thirty-year-old) and values for women are often 10 to 15 % below those of men.

In short, it can be said that stamina sport has a positive effect on a heart. We take care of our heart by reduced resting heart rate and combined reduced heart rate for submaximum exertion, increased stroke volume, and improved oxygen capacity.

Besides described cardiovascular sizes, sport has a positive effect on blood pressure, blood sugar level, cholesterol level, and body weight as well, of course.

Indications are average values collected in different situations (source: De Marées, H. (2003): Sportphysiologie. SPORT und BUCH Strauß).

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