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Experts weigh in on extreme fitness health risks

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Extreme fitness and health

Physical fitness, taken to the extreme, may not be a sign of good health say experts. Researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmond, MA analyzed blood sample of marathon runners, finding inflammatory markers that can lead to heart attack. In some cases, the pursuit of physical fitness can be detrimental. Extreme fitness isn't always healthy and comes with some risks.

When it comes to exercise more is not always better

Dr. Arthur Siegel, director of Internal Medicine, and the study director said, “My concern is for people who exercise thinking ‘more is better’ and that marathon running will provide ultimate protection against heart disease. In fact, it can set off a cascade of events that may transiently increase the risk for acute cardiac events.”

Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, authors of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust, say good health is a combination of many things. Intense physical training can induce stress that is detrimental to optimal health.

The warning is that it may be important to avoid repetitive and stressful, sometimes boring and intense exercise that can raise cortisol levels, stress the body, and lead to injury.

Al Sears, MD says it may be people push exercise to the extreme to relieve stress. Over training can upset a delicate balance in the body that is unhealthy says Tom Griesel.

He explains, “Too much exercise will tap into our lean body mass for energy and this causes stress which results in elevated levels of cortisol and other stress related hormones.”

Walking may be the best exercise for optimal health

Dian Griesel, Ph.D. thinks walking may be the ideal exercise, interspersed with 30 to 60 seconds of running. She says it’s “exactly what we were designed to do.”

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Professor Martin Gibala, of McMasters University advocates HIT (high-intensity interval training) for a time-saver that he says can be performed on a stationary bike that may be more suitable for those less physically fit.

Gibala said, “Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously.” The findings were published January 2010 in the Journal of Physiology.

Other studies also support the notion that short bursts of activity has benefits for reversing metabolic syndrome and for maintaining optimal cardiovascular health.

Dr. Sears reminds us running non-stop is unnatural, noting our ancient ancestor never ran long-distance without resting, nor does it happen in the animal kingdom.

Dr. Paul Thompson who is a marathon runner himself and director of cardiology at Hartford Hospital admits there should be some concern about pushing exercising to the extreme. “We know exercise reduces heart attacks. Research has shown it. But most of those studies are not based on distance runners running marathons.”

The finding that extreme fitness can be dangerous and unnecessary for optimal health is useful, given the obesity epidemic, busy schedules of most Americans and pervasiveness of sedentary lifestyles. Walking, interpersed with short bursts of high intensity running or jogging is achievable.

Experts agree exercise is necessary for maintaining heart health, but more may not be better. The message is, it’s possible to be “detrimentally fit”, suggested by the study that marathon runners may be at risk for heart attack from pushing it too far.

Business School of Happiness via Newswise

Image credit: Wikimedia commons



There are many benefits to doing High Intensity Interval Training. You can burn more calories and do it in less time,