How Doctors Will Monitor North Texan’s Heart During ‘The Longest Swim’

longest swim


An ongoing controversy in sports cardiology is whether endurance exercise is safe. Generally, the more you exercise, the better your heart health. But when do you cross the line into too much exercise?

My colleagues and I, jointly with the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, will work with North Texas endurance swimmer Ben Lecomte in 2016 to study how extreme exercise affects the heart.

We’ll join Ben virtually as he attempts to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean, part of a project he’s dubbed “The Longest Swim.”


Dr. Benjamin Levine, left, with North Texas endurance swimmer Ben Lecomte.

Our team gathered baseline data on Ben’s heart during summer 2015. His heart looks fantastic, and it beats normally. We’ll compare our data to that collected during Ben’s swim to monitor any changes that occur.

Ben is scheduled to dive from a Tokyo beach this summer, headed toward San Francisco. He’ll swim eight hours daily, using GPS to mark where he exits the water.

The crew of his support boat, the Stella, will pick him up to rest and drop him off at the exact coordinates he exited the water. Ben expects to complete the 5,500-mile trip in five to six months.

Floating in ocean water is similar to what astronauts experience in space.

Floating in ocean water is similar to what astronauts experience in space.

NASA sonographer David Martin will use remote guidance echocardiography –- the technology used to study astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) –- to monitor Ben’s heart from the offices of NASA contractor Wylie Industries in Houston.

GE Healthcare has provided a portable sonogram, identical to the one used by our team to study ISS astronauts, to produce images of Ben’s heart during the swim.

For Ben and his fellow citizen scientists, this is a chance to raise awareness about environmental sustainability –- a cause near to their hearts.

They will gather samples to contribute to oceanic studies while providing invaluable cardiologic data to our team. A trial run to Hawaii is scheduled for spring 2016, and we want to get one more cardiac MRI before Ben ships out.

We couldn’t be more excited, and we’re looking forward to cheering Ben on from Dallas.

Follow us on Twitter using #watchbenswimdfw for updates, and by visiting Ben’s website, TheLongestSwim.com, where he will share personal accounts as he makes his way to San Francisco.


Read more: 
Is extreme exercise – like endurance swimming – bad for your heart?

For a daily dose of what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth innovation, subscribe to our Dallas Innovates e-newsletter.

Dr. Ben Levine is the founder and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where he also holds the S. Finley Ewing Chair fo(...)