5 The heart and blood
Elite athletes are aware of the importance of heart performance and blood flow and many have specific training programmes to increase the strength and efficiency of the heart. This is not, however, just something that impacts on elite athletes. Even those of us engaged in sport at an amateur level or just for recreation will have experienced the effect of sport on the heart. After intense physical activity our heart pounds and possibly our head pounds too from the blood that is being pumped through it. Of course, if we have serious heart problems then our health suffers but even when we are more or less healthy, the strength and efficiency of our heart influences our sporting capabilities enormously.
During intense physical activity, an athlete needs to get oxygen and nutrients to all parts of his or her body. This means that the athlete needs an efficient cardiovascular system which includes:
- a healthy heart that can pump as much blood as possible
- healthy arteries and veins so that the blood can flow easily through the body and
- healthy blood that contains as much oxygen and nutrients as possible.
This section will give you a brief tour of the heart, blood vessels such as veins, arteries and capillaries and look at what blood is made up of.