Academic Editors: Vincenzo Russo, Saverio Muscoli and Giuseppe Mascia
Background: In young athletes, the level of competitiveness in sports is increasing, as well as frequency and intensity of exercise training. Adaptations of the cardiac system to this increased workload imposed by exercise has not yet been studied sufficiently. In adults, studies point towards a shift from the functional athlete’s heart towards pathological cardiac remodelling, with ventricular arrythmia and impaired cardiac function, that is exercise-related. This systematic review investigates cardiac adaptations to exercise in junior athletes compared to inactive controls. Methods: Three electronic databases (PubMed/Medline, ScienceDirect and Web of Science) were searched for studies assessing 2-dimensional transthoracic echocardiography (2D TTE) and 2-dimensional speckle tracking echocardiography (2D STE) parameters in junior athletes, aged 7–19 years, compared to inactive controls. Data was screened and extracted by two reviewers; study quality and risk of bias was assessed by three reviewers. Results: Eight out of 1460 studies met all inclusion criteria, with all studies reporting results on 2D TTE and six studies reporting results on 2D STE parameters in 540 (51 girls) junior athletes and 270 (18 girls) controls. There is evidence for structural cardiac adaptations of the left ventricle and both atria in junior athletes. Results regarding left ventricular function are controversial with a tendency to improved function in dynamic exercising athletes. Left ventricular mass and relative wall thickness point towards higher values in static exercising athletes. Conclusions: Cardiac adaptations to exercise occur in children and adolescents. These adaptations are more pronounced in structural left ventricular parameters. Functional parameters are preserved or slightly improved in junior athletes but not impaired by exercise.