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How hard should you exercise? New research to determine what's safe and what's not

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It’s the first of its kind for B.C., and it’s going to help fill a cardiovascular research gap in Canada: a new cardiopulmonary exercise test laboratory has opened at UBC Hospital.

“The CPET machine is a core diagnostic tool that can simultaneously look at both the pulmonary and cardiac variables from a health and fitness perspective in individuals while they are exercising, such as heart rate and rhythm, and oxygen consumption,” said Dr. Saul Isserow, Medical Director of SportsCardiologyBC.

In other words, it helps determine how much exercise is safe for people of all ages and fitness abilities.

“Heart disease remains the number one killer in Canada of men and women throughout their life,” he said, adding that the research underway studies a broad spectrum of active people.

“We do see a lot of the younger athletes just to make sure they haven’t got anything they were born with that could put them at risk,” said Isserow, who is also with the Sports Cardiology Department at UBC.

He also said, that for the first time, seniors, even those in their eighties, are wanting to be more physically active than any previous generation.

“Twenty years ago, when you had a heart attack, you’re told at the most, go for a walk now and again. Now, people have a heart attack, they want to go ride the Gran Fondo, run up Cypress Mountain. So we have to study the safety of all that,” he said.

The new lab is funded through donations raised through the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. The lab equipment is about $100,000, but another $1 million was raised to cover ongoing operating costs.

About 1,000 people each year will be tested at the new lab. It will take about 12 months to gather initial research on how much exercise is safe.

Isserow said similar research has been done in the US and Europe, but not in Canada.

“We need our own data. We have our own unique population,” he said.

The survival rate in Canada for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, including on the playing field, the hiking trail or in the gym, is just five per cent.

It’s hoped the work done by the lab will not only fill a research gap, but save lives.

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