While I love to encourage readers to exercise and get active, I caution them about exercising to the extreme. Some exercise programs, like the 21-Day Fix Extreme, may be OK, but new findings suggest that extreme exercise can do more harm than good.
Researchers at the Mid America Heart Institute of St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri found that physical activity, like any medical treatment, can be harmful when “overdosed.”
The research team looked at people who participated in marathons, triathlons, ultramarathons (50 or 100 mile racers) or long bike races. Overall, they found that people who exercised regularly received health benefits, tending to live seven years longer than those who were physically inactive. But when they focused only on the extreme athletes themselves, they found that the healthy effect of all their activity tended not only to decrease, but even worse, it became detrimental.
Other studies revealed that during and immediately following a marathon, runners showed a 50% increase in levels of an enzyme called troponin, which signifies damage to the heart. Troponin releases when heart muscle is in distress and it shoots up in patients having heart attacks. With repetitive troponin release over time, as occurs during lengthy, intense exercise sessions, the damage can cause scar tissue, which makes the heart more vulnerable to abnormal heart rhythms.
Any ‘healthy’ approach taken to the extreme may not always be healthy. A famous quote that embodies this idea is the extreme of one gives birth to the other, which is captured visually by the Yin-Yang symbol of Taoism.
In other words, to have health and harmony with fitness (and life), balance is essential. In striving for balance with any health program, be cautious of taking an extreme approach. We’ve learned that exercising too often at high levels of intensity may break the body down and suppress the immune system. We know that consuming too many protein bars with casein or whey protein can trigger a food allergy (I learned this first hand).
While researchers have shown that too much exercise is bad for the heart, too little is not necessarily good either. If you’re an athlete, a couple hours a day is quite common. However, non-athletes are encouraged to strive for moderate fitness activity like 15-60 minutes a day, several days a week.