Is Exercise A Drug and Can It Hurt Your Heart?

21 Feb

“Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.” ~ Isaac Newton

In today’s high-tech, fast paced society, we all tend to over think,  over complicate, and make things more difficult.  This is especially true when it comes to our health.

For example, there is pretty good evidence that exercise is good for you and people who exercise are, in general, healthier than people who do not exercise.

Few people would dispute it,  but that simple statement can be taken to the EXTREME. How? Many people think if a little exercise improves health, then more must really improve health.

Well, some researchers are now saying this thought process may be very, very, very flawed.

Here is why:  Researcher Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute of St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, reported in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings that strenuous exercise might actually harm your heart.

According to Daily Mail, “Extreme exercise, such as marathons, may permanently damage the heart and trigger rhythm abnormalities… [Researchers] say the safe ‘upper limit’ for heart health is a maximum of an hour a day, after which there is little benefit to the individual. 

“A review of research evidence by US physicians says intensive training schedules and extreme endurance competitions can cause long-term harm to people’s hearts. Activities such as marathons, iron man distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle races may cause structural changes to the heart and large arteries, leading to lasting injury.” 

Dr. James O’Keefe said, “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.

“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.”

Dr. O’Keefe thinks the research suggests that extreme endurance training can cause elevated cardiac biomarkers and transient structural cardiovascular changes that normalized in about a week.

The review found:

Approximately 12% of seemingly healthy marathon runners showed evidence for patchy myocardial scarring.

The two-year follow-up showed a significantly higher rate of coronary heart disease in marathon runners versus runners who do not run marathons.

Elite level athletes commonly develop abnormal electrocardiograms. Studies show that too much exercise can lead to abnormal heart rhythms.

Continued excessive exercise may lead to arterial wall stiffening.

It is important to note that Dr. O’Keefe mentioned long-term, vigorous exercisers have a lower death and disability rate than non-exercisers.

If the information in the report is accurate, exercising like crazy is better than not exercising at all… but moderate exercise is better than over-doing it.

Many people (marathon runners, triathletes, etc.) were enraged by this report, and quite frankly, many factors were not accounted for in this research.

For example, does nutrition change the results?  What about high carbohydrates versus low carbohydrates?  The list here could go on and on…

But the really important point is:  EVERYTHING HAS LIMITS.

For example, most people believe that drinking water is good for you.  Not always. If you drink too much water, you can actually DIE. In fact, a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that close to one-sixth of marathon runners develop some degree of hyponatremia, or dilution of the blood caused by drinking too much water.

Drinking the proper amount of water is good for you.  Too little is bad.  Too much is also bad.

We may need to look at exercise the same way.  Too little exercise is bad and too much is also bad.

Genetically, we are all different. We all have different amounts of stress and strain we can take.

But, we all have a threshold.  Exercising up to that threshold will be beneficial, but crossing it will not be beneficial and probably harmful.

Will some people be “okay” doing marathons or triathlons because they are genetically superior?  Probably. It’s just like some people smoke and live to be 95 years old and seem to be “healthy” their whole lives.

Then again, other people get lung cancer in their 40’s and don’t survive it.

Famous Chiropractor Jack Lalanne frequently said it is all about moderation.  He thought it was better to exercise a little every day than to go crazy every now and then. He was probably on to something.

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