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April 10, 2012, last updated December 2, 2012
By Stephen Kintz, Contributing Columnist
Could exercise kill you? The Centers for Disease Control suggests that
every adult get between two and three hours of moderate exercise a
week. This includes 2 ½ hours of aerobic exercises a week and, at
least, two days of weight training. Is your nightly walk going to end in
an exploded heart and your family in tears? Is your next push-up going
to push you into an early grave? Is every jog a jog with Death? Is the
dumbbell your way hell? No, sorry. I refuse to give you an excuse to
stop exercising or, more likely, to never start exercising. Unless you
have a pre-existing condition (hypertension, diabetes, or exercise
induce psychosis), the Centers for Disease Control claims that
complications from exercise are rare and rarely kill.
Disclaimer: if you are like so many people (me included) and you often
forego your yearly doctor-ly check-up, you should probably get a
physical before starting any exercise routine.
What Is Extreme Exercise?
How extreme must exercise be to qualify as extreme enough to damage
your health? Here is an example. Marathons are an extreme form of
running. After all, marathoners run at full sprint for 26 miles. Extreme
marathoners go even further, running for 50 miles or more. Ultra-
marathoner Micah True, who recently was found dead in the wilderness
of New Mexico, routinely ran for 12 miles a day routinely.
Luckily, you are young and healthy. You don’t have any health
conditions. Health conditions are for old fogies and computer yams.
You are way better than those blobs with sedentary lifestyles, and
everyone knows if you want to do something right, you better do it
right. If you want to be smart, you read every book you can get your
hands on. If you want to be healthy, you spend every waking moment
exercising. A moment not exercising is a moment closer to Mr. Death.
Well . . . you might want to hold off on the 24 hour workout routine.
(Read more about the absolute minimum amount of exercise you need
to be healthy.)
Research published in 2011 by André La Gerche and colleagues from
Universities in Australia and Belgium looked at 40 athletes who trained
and competed in an endurance marathon of 3 to 11 hours. The
researchers found that the hearts’ right ventricles not only decreased in
function for many athletes, but 5 athletes with some of the most
intensive training programs continued to have heart dysfunction one
week after the marathon.
The above study is compounded by a 2009 study conducted by in the
United Kingdom by Liverpool John Moores University and the Countess
of Chester Hospital that found that athletes with unusually healthy
electrocardiographies (ECGs) and Troponin 1 (a regulatory muscle
protein) levels before a 50 to 100 mile marathon had significantly
increased Troponin 1 levels and wild ECG readings that indicated severe
heart damage after the race. Several cardiologists who saw the results
claim that they would have admitted the athletes for heart attacks.
There is even growing body of literature published in 2007 by Dr.
Hatzaras and colleagues at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
that suggests that weight lifting could stress your heart and burst your
aorta. The study found 31 patients with no history of aorta trouble or
high blood pressure had an aortic dissection after strenuous exercise,
typically weightlifting. The first published case of the aorta bursting due
to weight lifting was published in 2004 by Dr. Raqucci and Dr. Thistle
from the New York University School of Medicine in New York, New
York. Unfortunately, 10 of the patients from the 2007 study died.
Of course, these studies are far from conclusive. As far as I know,
there have not been any longitudinal studies on extreme aerobic
exercises and heart damage. So the heart damage might not be
permanent. Moreover, in the 2011 study conducted by André La Gerche
and colleagues, almost all of the 40 athletes’ hearts returned to normal
after one week – only 5 athletes continued to have heart trouble. Even
the researchers claimed that it is probably only a small subset of the
population that will experience problems with extreme amounts of
The same appears true for weight lifters. The researchers do not
recommend that people stop body building. Most of the patients in the
study appeared to have slightly dilated aortas, so the researchers
recommend that for any individual who wishes to pursue a high weight
stress exercise routine should first check with their doctor. For most of
the population, body building or muscle sculpturing should not be
dangerous as long as steroids and high protein supplements are not
So should you start an extreme exercises routine to drop that weight,
build those super-pec muscles, and be uber-healthy? Unfortunately,
there is not enough evidence that extreme cardio damages the heart.
Researchers have also not been able to demonstrate a solid link
between aorta bursting and weightlifting. Of course, how many of us
were really going to go run 50 miles today? How many of us want to
lift 500 pounds?
Basically, it appears that for a healthy individual with no medical
conditions a moderate to vigorous workout will do no harm and
provide a world of benefits. So take the middle path, and exercise in
moderation because we need to exercise. In 2008, the Center for
Disease Control reported that 25.4 percent of Americans claimed to do
no active activities during their leisure time, while 33.9 percent of the
population is obese.
Ultra Endurance Training Can Wreck Your Heart
A new study in 2012 by doctors at the has found that exercising
intensely any longer than 60 minutes a day really doesn't add any
additional health benefits. In fact, intense exercise for extremely long
periods can in fact increase the amount of calcium deposits in your
heart, which can lead to sudden heart attacks. The study, called
"Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance
Exercise" was led by Dr. James O'Keefe of Mid America Heart Institute
of St. Lukes Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. The study found that
chronic training for marathons, triathlons and similar events can
overload the right side of your heart. In most people, the temporary
overloads correct themselves in a week. But in a few people, these
overloads can lead to long-term heart problems such as disrupting the
rhythm of your heart, increasing calcification in and stiffening of your
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|Ultra-marathon runner Micah True, 58,
was found dead in the wilderness of New
Mexico on April 7, 2012. He had gone out
for a 12-mile run, typical routine for him.