June 4, 2012

Extreme Cardio Could be Hazardous to Your Heart

A very interesting study was announced on CBC's Health site this morning that not only woke me up from my post-weekend (red wine) coma, but made me feel better about myself (and exercise habits). Researchers have published a study in the June issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings that suggest cardio training over 60 minutes shows little to no return on investment (see link below if you want to read more). In fact, they are starting to understand the adaptations to endurance training such as marathons, triathlons and such. Evidently, there is an increased risk of heart complications in those that participate in "extreme" exercise. So take THAT all you self-important long distance I'm-so-fit-I-can't-stand-myself marathoners!

The researchers said elite-level athletes commonly develop abnormal electrocardiograms and their hearts adapt in ways that traditionally weren't thought to be harmful.  Now it seems the cardiac remodelling from excessive exercise can increase their risk of heart rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation. 
-Kelly Crowe, CBC News
With the trends of endurance cardio events like triathlons, marathons, and even 1/2 marathons this is ground breaking news. There is a belief that if you are a distance exerciser you are fitter than the group of moderate exercisers that walk every morning for 30 minutes.  That belief will soon be a faded memory (not unlike the belief that exercising in a plastic garbage bag will help you lose weight). 

What's more, this article goes on to suggest that once people move into their mid-forties, they may be causing scaring and fibrosis of the heart as they continue to push their limits.  As Dr. O'Keefe said, interviewed for this article, when people tell him that they want to do a marathon he suggests they do one, cross it off their "bucket list", and then focus on health and longevity producing exercise that can last a life time.  Brilliant!

O'Keefe wants people to understand that the lion's share of benefits come at a relatively modest level (of exercise). No further benefits are obtained beyond 30 to 60 minutes a day of vigorous activity.
Such great news for the novice exerciser! If you can work your way up to 30 minutes a day, you will enjoy the greatest health and fitness benefits. If you aren't in the mood for "vigorous" (defined as breathing heavy and unable to hold a conversation) workout then extend the time and lower the intensity.

I shouldn't be too surprised by this study as I knew that everything in extreme is hazardous to health. BUT...I have to admit, like many others, I do place a higher level of fitness, strength, and longevity on those that participate in endurance events. Perhaps, one day...not too long from now, endurance cardio training will be seen as hazardous to your health as smoking? Ya think?

All I can say is this article has altered my approach to fitness already. After doing 20 years of high impact, long duration cardio my back is killing me. If I can swim, stretch, resistance train, and bike for the rest of my life I'll be happy (and, according to this latest finding, healthy).



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