Smoking is toxic. High blood pressure is the silent killer. The Mediterranean diet can add years to your life.
When it comes to heart health, there is often a black-and-white distinction between the good guys and the bad. In this cast of good and bad “actors,” exercise has recently emerged as the sometimes-hero, sometimes-villain in cardiac health. Every few months, out comes a study showing that excessive exercise can take a toll on the heart muscle, spawning news headlines that proclaim runners are on a fast track to an early grave.
But what constitutes too much exercise, and is it a friend or a foe?
As preventive cardiologists and avid runners, we decided to outline some of the truths, myths and simple advice about exercise and heart health.
Exercise is good!
The evidence is unequivocal – a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and diabetes. Studies have shown again and again that moderate, regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk and improves overall health.
The evidence of the beneficial effects of exercise is robust, and current guidelines from organizations such as the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity at moderate intensity per week. More is better, and no upper threshold of benefit has been set.
Exercise can boost heart health by reducing body fat, improving blood pressure and glucose, lessening psychological stress and fueling the production of heart-protective HDL cholesterol while lowering artery-clogging triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol.
But is more always better?
Runners will tell you they are often warned by concerned non-runners that too much running might be bad for them. It can ruin your knees! (Not really.) And, as of late, potentially damage your heart. After all, the warning goes, haven’t you heard of Jim Fixx?
Fixx, the author of the 1977 best-seller “The Complete Book of Running,” died while jogging at the age of 52. An autopsy showed he had severe coronary artery disease.