We have been programmed for YEEEEEEEARS that exercise is synonymous with health and wellness, and the expression “no pain, no gain” has been the rallying cry of many a well-meaning fitness guru. People seem to think that MORE IS BETTER in regards to exercise, sometimes working out 1-2 hours a day 7 days a week with barely a rest in between. But is working out that hard really necessary, or is it actually causing more damage than good?
Cardio Cardio Cardio
Cardio is actually essential for a healthy heart. As your heart pumps faster, more oxygen is delivered to your bloodstream, and natural painkillers such as endorphins are released. Light running is linked with a lower risk of death compared to those who do not run at all. Chronic cardio, however, is attributed to scarring, enlargement, and stiffening of the heart as well as a greater risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms.
Your heart is a muscle. like any muscle you work out, it needs a rest. if it doesn’t get proper down time, eventually it will break down in one form or another. There was a study done on runners who had done at least 5 marathons within three years, and the effects that it had on their health. During a two-year follow-up, the researchers discovered that the participants were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and 12 % actually had scarring of the heart.
According to another study, “Those who ran at a fast pace more than four hours a week for more than three days a week had about the same risk of dying during the study’s 12-year follow-up as those who were sedentary and hardly exercised at all. The link held even after the researchers accounted for potentially confounding factors such as age, sex, whether the participants had a history of heart disease or diabetes, or whether they smoked and drank alcohol. those with the lowest risk of dying during the study period were people who ran less than three times a week for one to 2.4 hours, at a slow to moderate pace. Even people who ran slightly more, for 2.5 hours to four hours a week at an average pace less than three times a week, showed slightly higher mortality risk, at 66%, something that came as a surprise to the authors.”
Too much cardio can increase inflammation, cortisol levels (stress hormones), tissue breakdown, chronic disease, increased risk of muscle injuries, a weakened immune system, and even insomnia.
Basically, consistent chronic cardio can stress your heart out, leading to long-term health issues and even death, just as much as NOT WORKING OUT AT ALL.
On the other hand, researchers have found that just one minute of intense exercise within a ten-minute session is as effective as a moderately paced 50-minute session in terms of overall health benefits.
The key here is moderation, people. You just can’t do more than is actually healthy for your body and expect long term results to be favorable. Short term you MAY end up look like a fitness god but eventually a few years down the road your body will eventually burn out, and it will NOT be pretty. On the other hand, adopting the “no pain, ALL gain” attitude can save you from all sorts of health problems. Instead of spending hours at the gym doing continuous drawn out cardio sessions that will ultimately stress your heart out (and also lead to overeating), you should opt for short bursts of intense exercise. Aim for 1-4 minute interval sprint sessions just ONCE a week, and lighter moderate walking, rebounding or any other light cardio exercises (just get up and MOVE more!) a few days a week. The goal is to get your heart rate up, then let it recover fully before stressing it out again. This method will strengthen your cardiovascular system, prevent injury and disease, and provide better results than an hours-long sweat session would. I KNOW, it’s counter intuitive because of the brainwashing but trust me, the science is there! For optimal results, you need to find out what your aerobic maximum heart rate is. Monitoring your heart rate will help you stay within the “safe zone” of cardio where it’s not too much, and not too little.
To find out what your ideal aerobic maximum heart rate is, simply subtract your current age from 180. For example, 180 – my age (33) means that my heart rate while doing cardio should go no higher than 147 bpm. This is your personal optimal-fat-burning-without-inflammation-triggering cardio sweet spot, so find yours and stay there!
Feeling the Burn
Let’s not forget that strength training can also be easily overdone. Too much can cause muscle tears, sprains, and other injuries. Overuse can even lead your body to actually cannibalize its own muscle tissue to use as fuel! That my friends is NO Bueno, so make sure you are giving each muscle group a day or two rest after working them to prevent any damage.
As always, you need to listen to your body. There is a difference between motivation and punishment, make sure you are staying on the motivation side of fitness and keep away from the punishment part. Your body will thank you in the long run!
If you were inspired by this post or if you have any thoughts or tips to add to this discussion be sure to let me know in the comments below!