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Can Extreme Exercise Increase The Risk Of Heart Problems?

The sudden demise of Kannada superstar Puneeth Rajkumar on Friday (29 October) sent shock waves through the Indian film fraternity. Fondly called Appu by his deluge of fans, the actor passed away due to a fatal cardiac arrest. He reportedly felt chest pain during a gym workout and was taken to the hospital immediately. Despite the intensive care measures taken by the medical staff, Puneeth remained unresponsive after being admitted to Vikram Hospital.

The star's untimely demise has opened the conversation on the link between exercise and heart health. A few days of moderate exercise every week is good for your health, but studies show more is not always better [1].

Today, we will look at the link between exercise and heart health problems.

Can Exercise Cause Heart Health Problems?

For a healthy individual, the general goal is to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. According to health experts, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. Sports and exercise with a high level of intensity include running, biking, swimming, exercise or dance classes, and strenuous sports. Exercise that's moderate in intensity includes walking, hiking, golfing, and home exercises [2][3].

People who exercised more than the national physical activity guidelines for many years had a higher chance of developing coronary artery calcification (CAC) by middle age. In CAC, calcium-containing plaques are found in the arteries of the heart, which is a prediction of heart disease [4].

A study found that people who exercised three times the recommended amount or 450 minutes a week of moderate activity had a 27 per cent higher risk of developing CAC than those who exercised the least [5]. Additionally, people who exercised less than the recommended amounts were more likely to have high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in middle age.

So, what does it mean?

Working out too much, that is, more than the recommended time will not aid your health or help you achieve your goal quicker (be it weight loss or muscle building) but increase the risk of weakening your heart and making you prone to having heart attacks [6]. A very small percentage of people who have underlying heart problems can develop arrhythmias when they exercise.

Over time, high levels of exercise can put a strain on the arteries. There are more studies on the link between exercise and heart health.

  • Moderate joggers had three times the risk of dying early compared to light joggers. There's a nine-fold increase in risk for runners who go hard [7].
  • In contrast to moderate exercisers, women who did strenuous activity daily were more likely to get heart disease, strokes, or blood clots.

However, it can't be said conclusively that high levels of exercise cause heart problems. Here are some examples.

  • Long-distance cross-country skiers who finished more races had a lower death rate.
  • In comparison to men who don't run ultramarathons, ultramarathon runners' arteries have larger diameters and can widen more [8].

Consequently, it is equally important to take care of your heart when you work out regularly. It is not exactly the exercise you follow that makes your heart weak, but the stress from the exercise combined with unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive drinking etc.

How To Take Care Of Your Heart?

A combination of risk factors is responsible for heart attacks and strokes, such as smoking, poor diet, obesity, physical inactivity, use of alcohol, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • If you are overweight, lose weight in a healthy way
  • Increase regular physical activity to at least 2.5 hours per week
  • Avoid the use of alcohol and tobacco
  • Have blood pressure and blood sugar checked regularly

On A Final Note...

There's a limit to exercise benefits. You'll feel the stress after that point, especially in your heart. When you're pushing yourself beyond these limits, it's important to take extra care of your heart. Avoid habits that could hamper your heart health. Stay healthy the right way!

Story first published: Monday, November 1, 2021, 15:18 [IST]
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