Excessive Exercise May Hurt the Heart

February is American Heart Month, and as heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, it’s not only a good time to raise awareness about heart health, but to address how excessive exercise affects this essential organ.

Studies show that when it comes to exercise there is a “sweet spot,” and that high levels of intense exercise may be damaging to the cardiovascular system. Makes sense, as when we add stress to our hearts we raise the risk for skyrocketing blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to heart failure or stroke. Research reveals that most at risk are white men who exercise at high intensity, and that prolonged high intensity exercise may increase the risk of death from a heart attack or stroke in those who already suffer from heart disease. In addition, data suggests that those who consistently train for and compete in endurance events, such as marathons and long distance bicycle races, are at risk to experience heart-related consequences.

But don’t toss the treadmill just yet. High intensity and extreme exercise are loosely defined as several hours of vigorous exercise almost every day, which describes elite and/or endurance athletes. The U.S. national guidelines for exercise call for 150 minutes a week — roughly 20 minutes per day — of moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, hiking and golfing, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activities, such as running, biking, swimming and strenuous sports.

Let’s face it: An active lifestyle can lead to a healthy life, so omitting exercise is not a wise decision. Inactivity increases our risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and more. In fact, a new study claims that bypassing exercise and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle may be more harmful to your health than smoking. Exercise not only offers improved physical health, but significant mental and emotional advantages as well, including enhancing mood and self-esteem, boosting energy and alleviating depression.

If you are worried about your blood pressure spiking to an unhealthy level, it may be advantageous to check it before and after exercise, with a goal of keeping the systolic (top) number below 190. And if you are an endurance athlete, mention your regimen to your physician and perhaps you can schedule routine checks of your heart and vitals. As with most aspects of a healthy and fulfilling life, balance is key.

References:

  • https://globalnews.ca/news/3810972/too-much-high-intensity-exercise-can-be-bad-for-your- heart-study-says/
  • https://www.livescience.com/53964-extreme-exercise-linked-to-atrial-brillation.html
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538475/

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