San Ramon, with its vast open spaces, numerous nature trails and wondeful scenery makes it a perfect area for runners. Many people associate running with improved fitness, losing weight, and staying healthy, but a growing body of evidence indicates that too much of it can actually be harmful to your health.
A new study due out next month in the British medical journal Heart reports that
...endurance training and marathon running can literally push your heart to its limit, causing a variety of acute problems, such as arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, and lasting damage, including calcification and scarring...[a 2012 Mayo Clinc study found that] long-term endurance training was associated with “coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening.
Apparently, there IS such as thing as too much cardiovascular exercise. The article states that while not a drug, extreme exercise possesses many traits of a powerful pharmacologic agent. A safe upper dose limit potentially exists, beyond which the adverse effects of physical exercise, such as musculoskeletal trauma and cardiovascular stress, may outweigh its benefits.
I have been warning my patients about this for many years. The repetitive pounding from running, over time, traumatizes cartilage in the weight bearing joints of the feet, knees, hips, and lumbar spine. It can lead to early osteoarthritis and reduced mobility. Secondly, long-distance running basically ages you faster by producing too many free radicals; more than your body's natural anti-oxidant defenses can handle. And now this new article confirms that frequent running can actually damage heart muscle. At this point, it's safe to say that frequent, long-distance running as an exercise regimen should be avoided, as the risks outweigh the benefits. Exercise is great in small doses, but "too much physical exertion too quickly or for too long a period can actually put a person’s heart at risk, especially if he or she is over age 35."
A safer alternative to running is interval exercises. What you do is run at maximum speed for 15-30 seconds, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat this 7-8 times. This can be done on a treadmill (but be careful to not fall off!) or in a park or track. Studies show that sprinting in intervals actually burns more calories and improves cardiovascular health more than running the same overall distance at a constant pace. It is also easier on your knees and back.
Don't use this article as an excuse to be a couch potato, though! Exercise is still essential to good health. You just have to find the right balance. Heavy breathing and an increased heart rate from cardiovascular exercise does improve your health, but make sure not to push yourself too hard.
Dan Perez, DC