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What Can Happen to the Human Heart After Months of Swimming? | The Swim


Long distance swimmer Ben Lecomte has his whole
heart invested in bringing attention to ocean health. But as he crosses the Pacific, medics are paying
close attention to the health of his actual heart. Researchers want to see how the body’s hardest working
muscle adapts over months of extreme exercise. They’re looking to see if the center of the heart
hardens through all this excessive training; we’ll see if there is a change in the EKG
actually happening; we’re also looking to see if Ben has
a low heart rate variability one day, does that affect how he swims the next day?
His length, his output, his general well-being? As with any other muscle, a more active heart
will strengthen over time, enabling it to pump oxygenated blood
throughout the body at a higher rate. This thickening process
and the resulting change in blood flow can be visualized with ultrasound. An ultrasound setup is not exactly portable,
and requires a professional to operate. That’s why Ben’s also sporting a small digital
body-worn monitor, developed by Lynda Cole, a longtime friend and supporter
of Ben and the crew. The heart rate monitor is composed of
the recorder and the electrode, and we want to be able to utilize that monitor
in every type of environment. From the electrode, there’s three parts
that have gel on the back of it. The signal coming from the body
goes to that gel, it goes up to the recorder,
and it produces the EKG signal. Some of the challenges in creating a monitor
that will work for athletes swimming are sweat, water, body movement… the newest device, the SL device,
which is what Ben is wearing is a compilation of everything we’ve learned. Lynda and her team are interested
in R to R variability, a cardiovascular metric that essentially measures
how adaptable the heart can be. When you exercise, your heart rate increases. If it’s 60 beats per minute all day long,
you probably have a pacemaker in or that muscle and the arteries and everything
are hardening around it. It’s a muscle; you want it to have elasticity. To get heart rate variability of data from Ben,
we measure the incident between each heartbeat. So the P wave is the very first part of the EKG signal, and then you have the Q, the R, the S, and the T. So when you’re measuring, you’re looking for the
distance from the P to the Q, or the P to the T or if you’re looking for wide QRS. So those are some of the different things
that we could measure. So right here, this is Ben, and his heart rate is 94 beats per minute, and he is not swimming here. The logbook that he keeps is a great thing, because it
tells us how the water is, how his emotional state is. We put that together with the data that we collect
and we’re seeing if we can predict anything. The lightweight, waterproof technology
Lynda developed for Ben has already solved challenges
in cardiovascular medicine. For instance, it can provide instant diagnostics for something called long QT syndrome in children, a potentially fatal condition where an erratic heartbeat
can cause fainting or seizures. They can tell if you have this syndrome immediately
by going into the water. By hitting in the cold water the measurements
will totally show themselves. So I said to the doctor, ‘well, you know,
I have somebody in the water; he’s on prototype electrodes.’ I cut and pasted some of the strips together
and sent them to him that night and I said ‘look, you know, remember this is a prototype.’ and he came back and he says, ‘I’ve never seen anything
so great. It’s so easy to measure; it looks great.’ And now you can put those kids in the water,
and you could diagnose this syndrome. Why wouldn’t you get excited about that? That type of impact is exactly what Ben
and the Seeker crew hoped this mission would create: a tangible difference in the lives of others showcasing how we can best monitor and care for
our planet, and our own bodies alike. The work that we’ve done with Ben is helping us get these types of materials out into the industry today, so that we can help diagnose these other illnesses. Be sure to visit Seeker.com/TheSwim
to read daily updates from Ben Lecomte, track his progress in real-time, and watch more videos about the science happening onboard Seeker. Click here for this next episode, and don’t forget to subscribe. Thanks for watching!

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