With exercise, we tend to think that more is better. After all, it only makes sense that the frequency and amount of time we work out would have an affect on how healthy and how good we look and feel. Well, it turns out that it does, just not in the way we think.
At the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in San Francisco, new studies were presented that showed moderation in exercise would improve health and longevity. Researchers at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and other institutions used the health records of 52,656 American adults who had undergone physicals between 1971 and 2002 as part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Each participant completed physical tests and activity questionnaires and returned for at least one follow-up visit.
Around 27 percent of the participants reported regularly running, although in varying amounts and paces. Over the course of the study, 2,984 of the participants died, but incidence was much lower among the group that ran. They had, on average, a 19 percent lower risk of dying from any cause than the non-runners.
While that information isn’t the shocker, researchers also found that moderation provided the most benefits. Those who ran one to 20 miles per week at an average pace of about 10 or 11 minutes per mile (in other words jogging), reduced their risk of death during the study more effectively than those who didn’t run or who ran more than 20 miles per week and typically at a pace swifter than seven miles an hour.
“These data certainly support the idea that more running is not needed to produce extra health and mortality benefits,” said Dr. Carl J. Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and an author of the study. “If anything, it appears that less running is associated with the best protections from mortality risk. More is not better, and actually, more could be worse.”
If you are someone that enjoys more vigorous exercise, it is still uncertain whether and at what point exercise becomes counterproductive. “In general, it appears that exercise, like any therapy, results in a bell-shaped curve in terms of response and benefit,” says James H. O’Keefe, MD, a cardiologist and author of an article that examines whether extreme amounts of exercise, particularly running, can harm the heart. “To date, the data suggests that walking and light jogging are almost uniformly beneficial for health and do increase life span. But with more vigorous or prolonged exercise, the benefits can become questionable.”
Dr. O’Keefe went on to explain that he wouldn’t automatically discourage people from doing more exercise if that’s what they really want to do, as long as they don’t experience side effects such as extreme fatigue and repeated injuries. “But the message from the latest data is that the sweet spot for exercise seems to come with less.”
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