Study: Extreme Exercise Isn’t Linked to Heart Disease

It's safe to run for five hours a day, if you have that sort of time

Extreme Exercise

According to data presented at a conference for the American Heart Association last week, extreme hours of exercise are for ultra-athletes not related to heart disease. A team of researchers assessed 66 different endurance athletes, who had been averaging for more than five hours of exercise a day, for decades, and found nothing out of the ordinary. No increased risk of “cardiovascular or all-cause mortality.”

Of course, that initial premise — people hurting their hearts from too much exercise — is sure to elicit some “huhs?” from those of us on the couch right now. But in the first few years of the decade, when ultra-running and its adjacent sports started hitting the mainstream, various medical professionals suggested that “excessive endurance exercise” could build compounds in the body that scar the heart, enlarge arteries and potentially induce sudden cardiac death.

2019 was a big year for at least partially debunking these claims. Earlier in the year, a study was published in JAMA Cardiology that assessed over 20,000 men with high levels of physical activity; while their arteries were indeed a bit stiffer, this wasn’t associated with a risk of heart failure. The more recent study decided to dig on that definition of “high” exercise levels by comparing them with the aforementioned 66 endurance athletes, who were deemed “extraordinary.” That leap in daily exertion doesn’t register in the heart. Meaning, they all had similar scores for BMI, cholesterol, etc.

So, you can exercise like a madman if you so choose, without fear of a massive heart failure. But don’t expect to perform too differently in a physical, than the guy down the street who runs three less hours a day. We’d recommend subscribing to the latter, to be honest. One aspect of all this that these cardiologists weren’t testing for is wear and tear on the rest of the body. How are the joints and ligaments of “extraordinary” exercisers holding up? As with most things in life, a moderate, faithful routine is your best bet for long-term success.

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