From ATA World Volume 19, Number 2 Summer 2012
This story begins with a warning: “Heart conditions are still the number one killer in the country,” says Dr. Robert Ketroser, head of the preventive cardiology community division at University of Minnesota Physicians Heart. “If you add up all the other causes of death, they won’t equal the number of people who will die of heart disease this year.”
But here’s the good news: practicing Taekwondo, even casually, can help you build a stronger, more resilient heart. Dr. Ketroser insists that even moderate activity can lead to improved cardiovascular health. Even people who simply walk every day have “much less heart complications and health complications in general,” he says.
Here’s the bad news again: Even Black Belts are prone to heart disease. Take 56-year-old Tom Murray. Co-owner of the Taekwondo Club in Cape Cod, Mass., Murray received his Black Belt in 1987. As a professional martial artist, he remained active in Taekwondo throughout his adulthood. Two years ago, he was a well-liked Taekwondo instructor testing for his 6th Degree. But at 385 pounds, he was also grappling with serious diseases that put extra pressure on his heart: diabetes and high blood pressure.
Murray blames an unhealthy diet and his habit of not exercising outside the Taekwondo ring. “You put on a little weight here, a little more here,” he says. It adds up over time.
Dr. Ketroser agrees with Murray’s lifestyle assessment: “I’m of the opinion that our culture—our diet and our lack of exercise—causes more heart disease than we’re supposed to have genetically,” says Dr. Ketroser. He points to mass-produced foods loaded with sugar and corn syrup. He also points to our sedentary lifestyles in the United States, where evenings often mean fast food and television.
Murray was taking “between 14 and 16” pills a day to stave off the catastrophe of heart attack. But it wasn’t the inconvenience, or cost, or even the fear of death that finally compelled Murray to get healthy.
It was Taekwondo. “The belly weight was affecting my stamina,” he explains. “The weight was affecting my kicking, my balance. I couldn’t even get on my sparring gear without getting winded.”
Now Murray is an amazing 215 pounds lighter. “What worked for me was 1,500 calories per day,” he says. “I eat a lot of salads and a lot of vegetables. I walk. I work out the martial arts a little more.” Bonus: He is no longer considered diabetic, and he is completely off all medications, including medication he took for high blood pressure.
At 169 pounds, Murray is now an ultra-fit Taekwondo practitioner with a strong, healthy heart. And his daily workouts are no longer designed to burn excess calories – they’re supposed to boost his cardiovascular fitness and his muscle strength.
New research from Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, U.K., suggests that an experienced practitioner like Murray will benefit more from some Taekwondo exercises than others. Studies found that experienced Taekwondo practitioners can enjoy more intense cardiovascular workouts (with higher recorded heart rates) if they engage with rigorous training like pad work, sparring drills and free sparring.
Now Murray can feel proud of his accomplishments in
the ring. He had started competing in regional Taekwondo tournaments, where he's
earning better marks and
scores than ever before. And in news that is good for the heart in more ways than one: "I took the ATA Fit Test last year and did phenomenally," he says. "Before I couldn't even do a sit-up."ATA