The Key Word When it Comes to Exercise is “MODERATION”
Last summer I published a blog entitled, “Do We Pay A Medical Price to Be Elite Athletes.” If you have not read it and are interested in doing so, it can be found at the following link:
The more I become aware of once great athletes who now have medical issues and, based on recent studies, I think I need to expand my thesis to everyone who works out regularly.
One would think for example, that the training and the ability to complete an Ironman Triathlon which is composed of s 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bicycle ride and topped off with a marathon run (26.2) miles, would guarantee the person capable of such super human training and racing feats to be all but immune from heart issues.
Alas, I think it is just the opposite. I personally know 4 Ironman finishers (two of whom were winners in their age group), who are walking around with electronics implanted in the chest to either support heart function or save their lives in case of heart malfunction.
A recent long-term study completed this very week on the subject of longevity/health versus training volume found this about running: There were three groups. Group one did no aerobic training, group two ran approximately 3 hours a week and finally group three ran 8 or more hours a week. Not surprisingly, the inactive group had the highest mortality rate and was the least healthy, but not surprising to me, group two, the group that ran moderately was healthier and lived longer than the runners who took things to an extreme.
Other studies are proving that longer, harder workouts do more damage than good to your body, and possibly your heart.
The European Heart Journal published a German study that looked at runners. Researchers compared the hearts of 108 marathoners to several non-runners. After monitoring the subjects for three years the researchers scanned their hearts.
The marathon runners showed significantly more plaque build-up than the non-runners. Several runners also had tissue scarring. These runners had damaged their heart by straining the heart muscle and too much scar tissue in the heart can lead to congestive heart failure and death! Unfortunately, many think that they are accomplishing the opposite through their excessive training.
Another study published by the Medical Journal of Australia confirmed it. For this study the researchers did blood tests before and after runners finished a race. They found that 32 percent of the runners had high levels of cardiac troponin—which doctors consider a marker for heart disorders. The more troponin in the blood, the more heart damage. Canadian researchers found the same thing: Long distance runners had elevated troponin.
Interestingly, when someone goes to the emergency room for a potential cardiac event, the blood profiles displayed by someone who has suffered a mild heart attack are similar to the profiles displayed by long distance runners.
More and more research now is coming out against distance running. The famous Dr. Cooper of Aerobics Clinic fame in Dallas and the author of the best selling book, “Aerobics,” came out against running years ago – he favors vigorous walking to inhibit the formation of dangerous free radicals in the body, which are potentially quite damaging. Exercise causes oxidative stress and DNA damage. Oxidative stress is when cells aren’t getting enough oxygen. And lack of oxygen creates free radicals. Free radicals wreak havoc on your body—causing things from advanced aging to cancer. As I mentioned in my original piece on the subject, many of the excellent, very active athletes I personally know are suffering from prostate cancer and unfortunately, two of my once very athletic friends have died from the disease.
So what are you to do? Research suggests that short sessions of interval training are an effective training medium and protective of the heart.
One of the workouts confirmed as effective by researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine is as follows: Sprint as far and as fast as you can until your heart is pumping and you’re out of breath. Then walk until your heart rate returns to normal. Then sprint again. Then rest. You only need to do this for about 10-12 minutes.
Studies confirm this recommendation. Researchers presented a study at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting showing how just two weeks of interval training improved aerobic capacity as much as six to eight weeks of endurance training.
Another study compared endurance and interval training and once again interval training proved to be better for the heart. And after just eight weeks of interval training, those subjects were able to perform better and showed less signs of stress to their bodies.
On a personal note, as someone who gave up competitive cycling recently and hence the required 3 ½ to 5 ½ hours a day of training required to maintain a national level of competiveness, I can’t remember feeling better in many years. I now mix moderate amounts of cycling with runs of about 25 minutes in duration along with weight training. My body weight has increased (muscular weight), and I look and feel better than I have in years.
For those of you who engage in excessive amounts of aerobic training, whether it be to maintain a competitive edge, or incorrectly thinking that you are enhancing your health, just know that you might ultimately pay the price for that training – and sometimes it is not a small price! If health and longevity are your goals, then the key is word is “MODERATION.”
As an aside, although I am probably more known as a cyclist, I do have some running history. This is a photo of me winning the national cross country title some years ago: