The Prospective Athlete’s Heart Study (Pro@Heart) provides a unique opportunity to rigorously assess the long-term health effects of high-level exercise. The prospective nature of this study is the key to its rigor. This refers to the fact that in the Pro@Heart study we will comprehensively assess the physical features of an athlete but then we will prospectively assess health outcomes over many years. This will enable us to assess whether certain individual features (heart size for example) are associated with good long-term health outcomes or otherwise.
There are multiple studies that have been performed in athletes but almost all of these have assessed athlete’s health at a single point in time. Thus, it is not possible to determine whether observations (positive or negative) are due to exercise or pre-existing health status.
This is an ambitious project. There have been a number of large prospective studies performed in the general population (the Framingham Cohort Study (New England, USA) and the Busselton Study (Western Australia) are two examples) that have contributed enormously to our understanding of the health effects of cholesterol, blood pressure and other lifestyle factors. There have not been any studies of this nature and scale in athletes.
We aim to create the largest prospective study in the world by combining with international leaders in sports cardiology, exercise science, genetics and population health. It is expected that the number of international collaborators will increase over time so that the study can provide a description of athletes from multiple nations and including various sporting pursuits.