Jan 7, 2008

Why I Do Not Let My Heart Beat Too Fast

As a follow-up to my previous post, I thought I would blog about heart rate monitors. I use one myself, when I go trotting around the neighbourhood.

The model I use has three parts - a wrist watch, a chest strap and a little shoe pod. As you run, the chest strap device and the shoe pod will continuously capture information and transmit it to the watch.

By looking at your watch, you can find out your heart rate, your average running speed and the distance you’ve covered. Depending on the model, you can also check how many calories you’ve burned, how much running you did in the aerobic/anaerobic range, and so on.

For me, what’s the most useful function of a heart rate monitor? Well, the watch automatically starts beeping when my heart rate rises or falls below certain thresholds. If my heart rate falls below the lower threshold, it means that I’m not pushing myself hard enough and therefore not really getting any cardiovascular benefits – I should run faster. But if my heart rate rises above the upper threshold, it means that I could be pushing myself too hard and should stop or slow down.

Monitoring the upper threshold is important to me because I was born with certain heart defects. According to medical science, those heart defects are not a good reason for me to refrain from physical exercise. However, also according to medical science, those heart defects make me a better candidate for sudden cardiac arrest than a completely normal person.

Since medical science can be such a contradictory pain in the neck, I take the middle ground, by exercising, but not too hard. And my heart rate monitor helps me to do that.

(For those of you who are wondering, yes, there are ways to roughly calculate how fast or slow your heart should beat during exercise, depending on your fitness goals. Click here for more information about training heart ranges).

Just in case I gave anyone the wrong impression, the heart rate monitor is not a medical device. In other words, it wasn’t invented to help heart patients exercise safely. It was invented to help serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts to train for optimal performance.

Thus there is no scientific study (as far as I know) proving that the use of a heart rate monitor can help to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest (whether in serious athletes, ordinary folks or heart patients). Nevertheless it seems logical to me that this should be the case.

This post comes too late, of course, to help the Unfortunate Major.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang

I'm going to go where no one has gone before, I'll be making a very specific wild speculation. Hope it might turn out to be useful for people in your predicament.

Have you heard of beta-agonist? It was used in the past to treat asthma but discontinued when it was found that it interferes with the heartbeat rhythm.

Beta-agonist is also used in some countries, notably USA, as a growth agent in pig farming. On the other hand, it's banned in yet other countries, notably the European Union. You might recall the hue and cry in Taiwan a few months ago, when their government attempted to allow USA pork to enter the country. It seems that Taiwan is another country which disallows their pig farmers to use beta-agonist.

So far, I have stated facts. In Malaysia, the situation is a bit murky. It's a fact that Malaysian pig farmers used beta-agonists in 2005. In 2006, it's supposed to be banned, but if you are a reader of blogs, you would not be so trusting of what you read in their official media. What is undeniable is that there is a huge economic advantage in feeding beta-agonist to the pigs.

I have been scrutinising news reports to see if there is any correlation between sudden unexplained death and eating Malaysian pork. There's not much information that I can see, except for one case where a young man had been on a weekend holiday at Port Dickson the week before he died.

There are other cases where the link is not so certain, as in deaths immediately after a weekend holiday, or in this specific case of the Major, during a major school holiday season. There is only a slight chance that these victims could have entered Malaysia during weekends or school holidays.

But I have also noted that there are cases where the victim is Malay, so that is a point counter to my speculation, for it brings serious doubt to any link with pork.

For sure, it's wild speculation to link such deaths to beta-agonist, even wilder to link to Malaysian pork. I have no intentions to further argue for the speculation or defend against criticisms. Nevertheless, I can never guess how a person with heart condition might treat such speculation.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Coincdentally I've just decided to go vegetarian (or at least to cut down very heavily on my meat consumption).

Nothing to do with your comment or the Unfortunate Major. But I will blog more about my veggie decision sometime soon.

Blogter said...

It is widely understood that meat is needed for protein for the building of muscles, etcetra.

But why is it that horses and other herbivores can be so much more muscular just by eating grass? Is it because they have a superior digestive system?

Since we're on the subject of diet.

eat-grass said...

Welcome to the "grass-eaters'" world, Mr Wang! The choices available have improved tremendously over the past decade.

Mr Wang Says So said...


You're going to be very surprised by what the real scientific studies say about the relative benefits of eating meat and eatign veggies.

In the United States, for example, the "meat is important for protein and your general good health" line turns out to be actively propagated not by scientists and doctors, but by organisations such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Blogter said...

Mr Wang:

That's indeed propaganda with an obvious agenda.

But wonder if there is there any study that shows veggies are sufficient for our protein needs? Or that meat is necessary for our protein needs is just a myth?

Anonymous said...

Go for an exercise ECG where there will be a specialist doctor around. Doesn't cost much (few hundred $). While you exercise your ECG is taken and abnormalities, if any, will be discovered. Then you will feel more assured (may not be 100% but at least better than no checks) if you can exercise without dropping dead suddenly in future. And do away with those gadgets. They can warn but cannot physically help (crucial) if anything suddenly happens.

FatBoi IN MaeSai said...

Hey Mr Wang, where did you get that cool watch and how much you paid for it? Plan to get one for high impact interval training :)

Mr Wang Says So said...


I'll probably blog more about proteins and vegetables in the future.

Anon 12:45 pm:

Oh, I've done all the tests. And already had my heart surgery. That was many years ago.


There are different models. Mine cost $200+. You can get them from any World of Sports outlet. The most common brand is Polar.

Nonlinear said...

RT people (what you have to do if your fail IPPT) are already being issued with the heart beat monitoring device.

I keep the device in my pocket and do RT at a leisurely pace. That's the surefire way of not dropping dead.

RT is already a failure. Buying gadgets like these won't make a miracle out of anything.

G said...

About the sudden death: if you don't take EPO or something, your risk of a sudden 'unexplainable' hearth attack during exercise are near to nothing.

G said...

Ooops, sorry, I thought the mayor was a reference some other deaths last year, e.g. the serviceman who died after a half marathon.

I don't think anyone would take EPO for a 1.2km run. (However, I get surprised sometimes)

moomooman said...