Dossier: Healthy heart

Hearts love sport

Exercise is generally good for the cardiovascular system, but is any one sport particularly good for the heart? We’ve taken a closer look at some sports with the help of sports doctor Didi Schmidle.

Text: Clau Isenring

“There’s no single sport that’s best for the cardiovascular system,” says sports doctor Didi Schmidle. “It differs from person to person.” Of course, walking is generally less tiring that playing a game of squash, but there are numerous factors at play – such as personal fitness, age, intensity, duration and recovery time – so it’s not easy to make generalisations about which sport is best.

Find a balance

Making time for your chosen sport is more important than the type of exercise you do. “Many people cram sport into their lunch break, practically eating their sandwich on the treadmill. And then they head straight back to work.” However, in today’s performance-driven society, it would be better to take a break before and after exercise. Time for recovery with a low pulse rate is just as important for your heart, cardiovascular system and general well-being as the exercise itself. “To ensure that sport does you good both now and in the future, it should be a balance to your work life and not another obligatory appointment on the path to high performance,” says Schmidle.

“There’s no single sport that’s best for the cardiovascular system, [...]”
Didi Schmidle

We’ve put the following sports to the test. Which are best for your heart?



“Swimming is probably one of the healthiest sports for most people, because it involves no risky stress peaks and is kind on the joints. As the heart and cardiovascular system have to work against the water’s pressure on the body, they get an extra workout. Using the right technique will help you save energy, while swimming shorter distances in cooler water is great for the circulatory system.”


“Running is one of the more intense sports for the heart. So remember, you don’t always have to be running marathons in record times! Who says you need to push yourself as hard on every run as you do at work? I advise my patients to take it easier and listen to their bodies. Pushing yourself too hard can be just as unhealthy as getting no exercise at all.”


“The risk of overexertion is generally higher when you’re playing against an opponent. Both players want to win and it’s hard to admit when you’ve reached your limit. If you need to take a break for longer than the actual rally, it’s maybe time to choose a different sport. Or you need to work on your stamina. Remember: if you do a high-intensity sport like squash, it’s important to have a more relaxing counterpart as a balance.”


“Rowing is a good way of strengthening the cardiovascular system and increasing lung capacity. Make sure you use the right technique to avoid wrist or lumbar spine problems. Did you know that rowing is the only sport where you cross the finish line backwards? You can only gauge your progress by how far you’ve come, and not how far you still have to go. That’s mentally challenging.”


“Yoga is a philosophical teaching that comprises a series of physical and mental exercises. For example, special breathing techniques are trained during a period of meditation. The exercises help you become one with your consciousness. Your heart benefits twice over from the relaxed exercise. What’s more, breathing is key to every sport, which is why I advise doing yoga before and after any exercise.”


“Far Eastern traditions, health exercises and martial arts such as qigong and tai chi are ideal for relaxing the body and finding your balance. It’s all about harmonising and regulating the internal body flow. The slow exercises are particularly kind on the heart and cardiovascular system. Here, too, you learn to breathe correctly and how to influence your heart rate. Take a quick test: when you hold your breath, your pulse speeds up.”

Dr Didi Schmidle (66), a specialist in internal medicine and sports medicine, is a physician to the Swiss Olympic team (international shooting, wrestling and Schwingen (Swiss wrestling), and looks after numerous top athletes from various disciplines. He is also a medical consultant to the Knie circus and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and was a prison doctor for almost 25 years.