Can Extreme Exercise Damage Your Heart?
Exercise is good for you, but some extreme athletes can push past healthy limits. Moderate exercise is best for physical, mental health.
Chronic extreme exercise training and competing in endurance events can lead to heart damage and rhythm disorders. People with genetic risk factors are especially vulnerable. That doesn’t mean you should put away the walking shoes, though. Moderate exercise is still the best prescription for good physical and mental health.
Unlike weekend warriors, brisk walkers or even enthusiastic joggers, extreme athletes are regularly pushing the limits of their physical capabilities. They run 50 miles or more or repeat marathons in rapid succession, often near exhaustion, dehydration and pain that would sideline or hospitalize many people.
One research suggested that repeated grueling workouts stress the heart muscle — not just the skeletal muscles — and that chronic damage can lead to heart troubles. Extreme, long-term endurance hard training puts equally extreme demands on the cardiovascular system. Experts found that after finishing extreme running events, athletes’ blood samples contain biomarkers associated with heart damage. These ‘damage indicators’ usually go away by themselves, but when the heart endures extreme physical stress over and over, the “temporary” damage may lead to physical changes such as thicker heart walls and scarring of the heart.
What this means for average person
Exercise and strenuous physical activity is clearly associated with enormous heart health benefits in the vast majority of people when compared to people who do not practice at all, but in some cases, extreme training can trigger arrhythmia. While there is emerging evidence that prolonged strenuous workout can increase risk of atrial fibrillation, the long-term risk of this is small compared to inactivity.
Proven benefits of regular exercise include lower blood pressure, increased strength, diabetes reduction risk and better mental health. All in all, despite the concern about extreme exercise, there is not much reason for the average person to worry – Exercising is far better than being inactive!
Experts agree that whether you are a sports enthusiast, a beginner, a senior or someone beginning cardiac rehab, physical activity is good for you. For the general public, recommended is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Moderate exercise includes activities such as walking, jogging or swimming. In general, moderate activities should leave you free to carry on a conversation while you are active.
If you have symptoms, a history of a heart condition or risk factors for heart disease, check with your doctor before starting or changing an exercise regime.