Regular cardio exercise helps your heart pump harder, contributing to a rise of blood oxygen and endorphin – a natural painkiller – levels.

However, is lengthy and frequent vigorous training feasible, or even necessary? Studies have shown that too much endurance training can be bad for your heart. We tell you why.

According to a study by the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Montreal, although regular exercise might reduce cardiovascular risks, running too many competitive marathons increases one’s cardiac risk by up to seven times. Long distance running also results in high levels of inflammation that may trigger cardiac events and damage the heart even after marathon running.

In addition, research done by the Heart Editorial found no mortality benefit for those running faster than 8 miles per hour (approx. 13 km/h), whereas those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.

The benefits of running may come to a hard stop later in life as well. In 2008, a German study of experienced, older marathon runners found increased signs of fibrosis – thickening and scarring of connective tissues – in their hearts as compared to a group of less active old men.

You should also know that there is a significant increase in risk of atrial fibrillation – irregular heart rhythms – for endurance athletes, estimated to be the cause of one third of strokes.

I am not trying to discourage exercise. On the contrary, exercising is good for you. However, it is important for us to allow adequate time for our body to recover. Here are some recommended practices that are beneficial to your heart without the risk of causing long-term damage:

  1. Demanding, yet short training sessions with alternating rest periods, such as interval training.
  2. Circuit type strength training, which helps to strengthen your muscles and elevate heart rate.
  3. Training must not exceed four days per week; include recovery days in between to allow time for the body to heal.
  4. Train progressively, increasing the number of bouts and intensity of effort gradually.
  5. Stop training when you sense extreme exhaustion and do not continue until you are fully recovered.
Dr. Dinesh Nair

Dr. Dinesh Nair is a Senior Consultant Cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. His subspecialty within Cardiology is in Interventional Cardiology where he actively practises newer, minimally invasive and complex treatment modalities. These include, complex angioplasty using the radial artery (wrist) approach, as opposed to the femoral (thigh) artery, allowing earlier mobility and discharge of the patient, and transcatheter aortic valve replacement, where the aortic valve is replaced without open heart surgery via an approach from the femoral (thigh) artery.

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