Diverse patterns of myocardial fibrosis in lifelong, veteran endurance athletes

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Jun;110(6):1622-6. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01280.2010. Epub 2011 Feb 17.


This study examined the cardiac structure and function of a unique cohort of documented lifelong, competitive endurance veteran athletes (>50 yr). Twelve lifelong veteran male endurance athletes [mean ± SD (range) age: 56 ± 6 yr (50-67)], 20 age-matched veteran controls [60 ± 5 yr; (52-69)], and 17 younger male endurance athletes [31 ± 5 yr (26-40)] without significant comorbidities underwent cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging to assess cardiac morphology and function, as well as CMR imaging with late gadolinium enhancement (LGE) to assess myocardial fibrosis. Lifelong veteran athletes had smaller left (LV) and right ventricular (RV) end-diastolic and end-systolic volumes (P < 0.05), but maintained LV and RV systolic function compared with young athletes. However, veteran athletes had a significantly larger absolute and indexed LV and RV end-diastolic and systolic volumes, intraventricular septum thickness during diastole, posterior wall thickness during diastole, and LV and RV stroke volumes (P < 0.05), together with significantly reduced LV and RV ejection fractions (P < 0.05), compared with veteran controls. In six (50%) of the veteran athletes, LGE of CMR indicated the presence of myocardial fibrosis (4 veteran athletes with LGE of nonspecific cause, 1 probable previous myocarditis, and 1 probable previous silent myocardial infarction). There was no LGE in the age-matched veteran controls or young athletes. The prevalence of LGE in veteran athletes was not associated with age, height, weight, or body surface area (P > 0.05), but was significantly associated with the number of years spent training (P < 0.001), number of competitive marathons (P < 0.001), and ultraendurance (>50 miles) marathons (P < 0.007) completed. An unexpectedly high prevalence of myocardial fibrosis (50%) was observed in healthy, asymptomatic, lifelong veteran male athletes, compared with zero cases in age-matched veteran controls and young athletes. These data suggest a link between lifelong endurance exercise and myocardial fibrosis that requires further investigation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Athletes*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Contrast Media
  • England
  • Fibrosis
  • Heart Diseases / pathology*
  • Heart Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardium / pathology*
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Stroke Volume
  • Systole
  • Ventricular Function, Left
  • Ventricular Function, Right


  • Contrast Media