All Woman writer
IT'S common knowledge that no exercise is bad for your health, but spending long hours pounding the pavement in hopes of winning a marathon without taking the necessary precautions might not do much good either.
Studies continue to suggest that excessive amounts of exercise could possibly pose a risk to the heart. A multi-study review carried in the June issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that exercisers who spent hours daily training for marathons, triathlons, and other long distance events, could be risking their health.
Researcher Dr James H O'Keefe, who is also director of preventive cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute at St Luke's Health System in Kansas City, pointed out in the review that a healthy exercise regime did not demand such extreme and intense duration of workouts.
"Physical exercise, though not a drug, possesses many traits of a powerful pharmacologic agent. A routine of daily physical activity can be highly effective for prevention and treatment of many diseases, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, heart failure, and obesity," he noted. "However, as with any pharmacologic agent, a safe upper dose limit potentially exists, beyond which the adverse effects of physical exercise, such as musculoskeletal trauma and cardiovascular stress, may outweigh its benefits."
The cardiologist pointed out that extreme training for endurance events could lead to the enlargement and stiffening of the heart, as well as, "cause dilation and stretching of the heart's chambers, especially the atria and right ventricle."
In another of the studies reviewed, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive care at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, Dr Carl Lavie, advised that exercise is best done in moderation, although he was keen to point out that exercising is not a bad thing.
"What we don't want to lose sight of is: people who exercise do better than people who don't exercise," Dr Lavie said.
Jamaican cardiologist Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips agrees that there is much to gain from exercising, however, she, too, cautioned persons to do a cardiac screening before signing up for any programme which demands an intense amount of exercise on a daily basis.
"If you have diabetes, if you have hypertension, if you have any physical deformities, arthritis, problems with your joints, with your muscle, you have to make sure that you are cleared. But once you have ensured that this is done, the actual exertion itself should not be a problem," she said.
She said that some people who push themselves to the limit might experience tears in their muscles and tears in their ligaments as is often seen in athletes, however, just regular exercising should not pose a problem.
The cardiologist said people usually get muscle pain during the first two to three weeks after starting an exercise regime, however, this goes away after the body adjusts to the new routine. So as to put less pressure on the body, she encourages beginners to start exercising for about 10 minutes in the first week and then half an hour after a month or so to get the body adjusted.
"Thirty minutes minimum four times a week is what is recommended to keep your basal metabolic rate up," she said.
For those who are training for marathons and other endurance events, the cardiologist suggests that they get proper running gears that facilitate respiration and get adequate nutrition. They should also be properly hydrated and strive to also adequately replace electrolytes and fluids as they exercise.
"You not only need water, but you need other electrolytes for your body. That is why drinks such as Gatorade and Lucozade will not only replenish water, but also replenish the other electrolytes and nutrients that the body needs during exertion," she pointed out.
Another thing, too, she said, is to monitor the time you eat and when you choose to exercise.
"Avoid eating within two hours before any form of exercise, because your body's blood circulation goes predominantly to the gastro-intestine which is in our gut to facilitate absorption of foods. As a result, you will have relatively less blood going to your muscles. So you don't want your muscles to be competing with the blood flow to your gut, so you should try and ensure that you have a meal a minimum of two hours prior to any form of continued exertion to avoid development of muscle cramps."
As to suggestions that excessive exercise could affect fertility or sexual performance for men, Dr Williams-Phillips said there is no proof of this. However, she pointed out that excessive exercise for female athletes during puberty might result in a delay in the onset of their menstrual cycle.
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