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Exercise That Can Actually Damage Your Heart

All exercise is good for us right, especially for cardiovascular health benefits? I for one have long argued this simply isn’t the case and now it looks like researchers have found evidence to support this idea.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (Feb 2011) researchers examined the heart health in a group of very fit older athletes.

These were men who had been part of a national or Olympic team in distance running or rowing, along with runners who had completed over one hundred marathons.

The results were staggering…half of these lifelong athletes showed evidence of heart muscle scarring.

If you’re a runner, don’t panic as there’s no need to hang up your running shoes just yet. Remember we’re talking about athletes who did a significant amount of endurance work.

This is the result of excessive cardiovascular work plain and simple.

I don’t think that if you’re someone who likes to run 3-5 miles several times a week you’ve got much to worry about. While it’s hard to say the exact frequency and duration that will cause heart problems with any given person, it’s pretty safe to say that you simply need to provide adequate recovery and moderation.

I know that a lot of people simply enjoy long distance running, rowing, biking, etc, and as far as I’m concerned, “to each his own.”

If that’s what you love to do then rock on.

I say this because invariably someone gets upset up every time I write something about long distance running because they know I’m not a big fan of it….and I don’t try to hide it.

Hey look, I’ve got close friends and family members that do marathons and crazy long distance endurance stuff and I still support them 100%. It’s quite the accomplishment and I commend anyone who’s conditioned their body to do something like that.

Just because you won’t ever catch me running for hours doesn’t make one person right and the other person wrong.

But if you just want to get “in shape” and be healthy, let’s not kid each other. Doing excessive long distance running can take a real toll on your body.

Hip, knee, and ankle problems top the list due to the repeat compression on hard surfaces. The distance runner who is honest will tell you it’s just part of the deal.

Enjoying the sport or exercise as a recreational activity is one thing…
Convincing someone they should do long distance cardio for the health benefit is hogwash in my opinion!

Here’s what Dr. Mercola had to say about this research study in his recent blog post.

“By focusing on extreme examples we can tease out some of the truth when it comes to exercise. These studies help explain why well-trained professional athletes can suddenly die from heart failure. For example, four years ago, one of the best American marathon runners ever, Alberto Salazer, nearly died from a heart attack at the age of 49!

I remember when Alberto won the New York City Marathon in 1981 and apparently broke the world record at the time with a 2:08:13.  Unfortunately the course was later found to be short by 147 yards and the record was taken away. However he was still one of the fastest distance runners in the world and you simply don’t get much more aerobically fit than he was.

This is a powerful lesson to anyone who engages in large amounts of cardio exercise, because as it turns out, conventional cardio may actually be counterproductive… So, although most people who read this are not exercising nearly enough, it’s still important to understand that it is indeed possible to over-exercise—especially if your primary focus is on traditional cardio.

Research emerging over the past several years has now given us a whole new understanding of what your body requires in terms of exercise, and many of our past notions have been turned upside-down.”

You can check out the full article for more on this subject but I’ll give you the quick recap.

Dr. Mercola advocates something he calls Peak Fitness exercise sessions which is in essence “burst training.”

The idea is to work in short burst of high intensity effort followed by brief recovery periods. When it’s done with resistance workouts we call it burst training, you’ve probably heard the sister variation for cardio called interval training.

Same principals apply. They both work fast twitch muscle fibers which helps to promote human growth hormone (HGH) secretion. This is the key if you want to reverse middle age “somatopause.”

Here’s my final two cents on it for what it’s worth…

I’m definitely a believer in providing the human body a little bit of everything. Too much of any one activity or stimulus not only leaves “gaps” in your fitness but can be counterproductive as well. As in life it’s all about balance.

My personal philosophy with exercise closely resembles what our ancestors did to stay vivrant and strong. No, let me rephrase that…what they did to survive.

The Primal Blueprint model of fitness includes…

- Moving frequently at a slow pace: regularly walking, hiking, cycling, running, rowing, climbing, swimming, etc at 50-75% of maximum heart rate several times a week.

- Lifting heavy things on occasion: this is where burst training comes in. Two to three times a week you want to work your muscles with heavy loads or lighter loads and more repetitions with shorter rest periods. Bottom line, give your muscles some WORK!

- Sprinting or doing all out effort on occasion: the frequency here depends on your goals but bottom line is every now and then you need to go all out.

You see even the runners can be happy here as the foundation includes “moving frequently at a slow pace.” I just believe there’s lots of ways to do this and you don’t have to wear out your joints or worse yet your heart in the process.

Just make sure not to become too one dimensional with your fitness. The marathon runner is no more “fit” to me than the advanced bodybuilder. They both have limitations in what they can do and both have actually compromised their health in some way to get to that level.

Do what you enjoy to do but just take care of your health my friends.

We get just one body at birth and it’s the only one we get.


The Journal of Applied Physiology February 17, 2011 [Epub Ahead of Print]

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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