How much exercise is too much?



Many of you exercise a lot – and we have always encouraged a decent volume of exercise.

If you are physically active then you have a 30% lower risk of death in virtually all studies.


And, you are more likely to have a higher quality of life with:

*  less susceptibility to stress

*  less incidence of a number of chronic illnesses – osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease etc.

Can you overdo it? Especially in middle age?

Just this month an article published in the American College of Cardiology Journal alluded to a link between excessive exercise and a higher death rate.

The study compared light joggers with strenuous joggers versus those doing no exercise at all.

The light joggers (running for between 1 hour to 2.5 hours per week, over 2 sessions, at a slow to average pace) provided the greatest longevity.

Surprisingly strenuous runners (running for more than 4 hours per week, or more than 3 sessions, at a speed greater than 11km per hour) lived no longer than total couch potatoes!

What do studies show about running marathons?

There have also been recent publications which suggest that middle aged men who run marathons create, during the event, high cardiovascular strain which affects the structure and the rhythm of the heart with adverse outcomes.

The concern is that irreversible cardiac damage may be occurring – the entire opposite of the intention of the exercise!

What do I do?

At my age (middle age), I don’t push my heart.

I try to keep my heart rate under 140 beats per minute generally (or 85% of my maximum heart rate). I calculate that by subtracting my age from 220 and multiplying by 0.85. If you are middle aged and exercise between 70% and 85% of your maximum heart rate, that is fine.

I figure that I don’t need to be a hero as there is potentially more downside than upside to pushing my heart too hard in middle age.

I wouldn’t be as concerned if I was still in my 20’s, assuming I had had a decent physical and resting ECG, thus excluding those congenital “hidden” heart problems that account for sudden cardiac death at a young age.

The message – slow and steady wins the race, especially at middle age!!

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About the author

Dr. John Cummins, consultant physician and CEO, specializes in preventative medicine and longevity. With over 30 years of experience, he integrates technology with evidence-based practices to enhance health outcomes.

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