Exercising is good for your health – that is a fact that has been long proved. A new report, however, says that too much endurance exercise — like ultra-marathon running — may lead to serious heart issues.
Ultra-marathons, which are usually over 50 miles, are classified as “excessive endurance exercise”, along with events like triathlons and long-distance cycling. According to the study, released by the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, these events and the strenuous training required beforehand may lead to permanent heart damage or a deadly cardiac event.
“Physical exercise, though not a drug, possesses many traits of a powerful pharmacologic agent. A routine of daily physical activity can be highly effective for prevention and treatment of many diseases, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, heart failure, and obesity,”said Dr. James H. O’Keefe of Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, lead author of the study. “However, as with any pharmacologic agent, a safe upper dose limit potentially exists, beyond which the adverse effects of physical exercise, such as musculoskeletal trauma and cardiovascular stress, may outweigh its benefits.” .
Just a little more than 2 months ago, legendary ultra-marathoner Micah True died suddenly while training for his next bog event. His autopsy revealed his heart was enlarged and scarred, and Science Daily reports the suspected cause of those cardiac changes is Phidippides cardiomyopathy, a condition brought on by excessive endurance training.
In fact, during O’Keefe’s research, many athletes were discovered to have temporarily elevated substances in the body causing heart damage and inflammation. Approximately half of runners during or immediately after an event showed signed of dangerous elevations that sometimes lasted for days. Over time, those elevated compounds could scar the heart and arteries, and could lead to enlargement of the ventricles.
Such damage to the heart could cause irregular heartbeats, coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, large-artery wall stiffening, or cardiac death.
This is not the first study to point out the negative effects strenuous exercise has on the heart.
Another recent study published in PLos one revealed that 10 percent of volunteers who performed rigorous exercise saw an increase in at least two areas of blood pressure, insulin, triglycerides, or HDL cholesterol — measures used to gage heart disease.
Strenuous exercising is not the same as frequent physical activity, essential to maintaining overall health – including heart health.
“There are a lot of people out there looking for any excuse not to exercise,” said to The New York Times, William Haskell, emeritus professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “This might be an excuse for them to say, ‘Oh, I must be one of those 10 percent.’ ”
However, regular exercise is still an important part of being healthy — as long as it is done in moderation.
“Physically active people are much healthier than their sedentary counterparts. Exercise is one of the most important things you need to do on a daily basis. But what this paper points out is that a lot of people do not understand that the lion’s share of health benefits accrue at a relatively modest level,” stated O’Keefe. “Extreme exercise is not really conducive to great cardiovascular health. Beyond 30 to 60 minutes per day, you reach a point of diminishing returns.”
Currently, cutting exercise to under 60 minutes a day for 5 times a week is considered suitable for keeping the body healthy and staving off diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular complications.