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Primate hearts are uniquely adapted to meet their species-specific physical activity needs. Whereas chimpanzee hearts are adapted to relatively low levels of activity interspersed with short bursts of resistance activities, the human heart has adapted to allow humans to engage in low- to moderate-intensity endurance activities to facilitate the acquisition and preparation of food. Findings from a new study suggest that human heart health is dependent upon moderate-intensity endurance exercise, and its absence likely contributes to hypertensive heart disease.

The structure and function of the heart’s left ventricle are critical to heart health. Left ventricular dysfunction sets in motion a cascade of compensatory mechanisms that promote organ-level structural changes and elicit system-level hormonal adaptations, including hypertension. It is widely recognized as the end-stage of heart failure.

The authors of this study compared the blood pressures and left ventricular function and structure of chimpanzees and humans. They found that the human left ventricle amplifies cardiac output, a measure of the amount of work the heart performs in response to the body’s need for oxygen. This adaptation facilitates endurance activities and is not present in chimpanzees. They also found that lack of endurance activity changes the shape of the human heart to reflect more of a chimpanzee-like heart.

These findings suggest that human heart health is dependent upon regular low- to moderate-intensity activities that challenge the heart.

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