A new study, published online June 4 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, helps give us more insight into what is healthy vs unhealthy in the realm of exercise. The study suggests that excessive endurance exercises might actually be putting people at risk for permanent heart damage and possibly lethal cardiovascular events. Please check out this article with my personal highlights: diigo.com/0r090
Logic: Looking at a competitive endurance athlete immediately tells me that there is something deficient in the person.
Many endurance athletes border on looking malnourished and sickly because muscle mass and body weight are sacrificed to dramatically reduce performance times. In general, for every 1 percent loss of body mass, primarily as body fat, there will be an approximately 1 percent increase in running speed. I’m not hear to bash on endurance exercise fanatics, but the fact that they look weak and twiggy and must constantly replenish and re-hydrate key nutrients before, during, and after a race is telling me that this isn’t healthy. Also in nature, how often would you run 26 + miles? Almost every reason for forcing the body to this distance is aligned with an extremely stressful situation (sympathetic response) as you are either running away from something dangerous, or need something badly (food/water/resources). Your body’s interpretation physiologically is that of a very stressed person trying to survive a very difficult situation.
Traditional wisdom: In chinese medicine, conceptually anything that is too much or too little is out of balance, and it is believed that this imbalance leads to poor health and disease.
The two ends of this spectrum in exercise are the couch potato (excess yin- no movement) vs. the ultra-marathoner (excess yang- too much movement). The sweet spot for health, as in almost anything else in life, is right in the middle: to have enough movement to promote qi and blood circulation throughout the body, without having to deplete the body’s resources to sustain that movement and eventually cause qi deficiency. What is qi?
Science: We know that this excess activity can be potentially hazardous to our health via chronic inflammation and cellular damage.
When you are pushing the body to these limits, we see from this study that we can potentially cause inflammation and cardiac damage, among other physiological reactions to this type of activity . Inflammation is becoming increasingly linked to the majority of diseases we have in our society today. However, we also know that moderate exercise has been consistently shown to improve health on all levels and improve longevity (potentially 7 additional years to your life!).
Conclusion: Jump around like a frog! Frogs utilize high intensity bursts of energy to catch their prey followed by calm observation of the environment. Similarly, an optimal lifestyle would be high intensity interval training (sympathetic activation) followed by cool down in a sauna or meditation (parasympathetic activation) to balance it out.
I’ve advocated for the use of short high intensity interval training for some time now, especially within my weekend weight-loss group because it is efficient, easy to do, and highly effective. Most likely any exercise is far better than doing no exercise at all. However, this study again reiterates that as little as 20 minutes a day of this high intensity workout can provide the incredible benefits of exercise without creating an inflammatory response that happens when you start damaging the body by pushing it beyond its own capabilities. One of my favorite exercises is the frog jump. No wonder P90X, Insanity etc type workouts are so popular!
Lifestyle Changes: High Intensity Interval Training or cardio that lasts for 1 hour or less on a regular basis. If you are experiencing chronic pain, that is a sign that your body’s inflammatory response may be engaged and it’s time to look for another exercise that doesn’t cause chronic pain (eg. swimming). Focus on the Anti-inflammatory diet. Many diets claim health benefits, but if it’s not counteracting inflammation (the root cause of many diseases) and stabilizing blood sugars (2 key aspects of my program) then it doesn’t filter through my 3 principles.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases, including those that become more frequent as people age. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime. – Dr. Andrew Weil, MD.
Supplements: Fish oil supplement daily (1000mg minimum) and virgin olive oil in foods is a synergistic combination that is highly anti-inflammatory.
Many of the anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective benefits of the Mediterranean diet come from the omega-3s from fish and other seafood in the Mediterranean diet. However, recent scientific evidence showed that when consumed in combination, omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil polyphenols confer greater benefits than either nutrient alone. In July 2009, scientists presented data regarding atherosclerosis prevention in a preclinical model of atherosclerotic disease. Norwegian researchers used a blend of marine omega-3 fatty acids and extra virgin olive oil and the progression of atherosclerotic lesions was subsequently assessed. Lesion formation was reduced by 54% in the aorta and 61% in the aortic arch of the female animals studied. Among males, significant reductions in lesion sizes were observed solely in the thoracic and abdominal aortas.“This effect seemed to be [independent of] lipid metabolism and platelet aggregation,” they concluded. “Hence, dietary supplementation of such an oil mixture may be valuable in the prevention of atherosclerotic vascular diseases.” –J Thrombosis Haemostasis.2009 July;7(2):Abstract PP-MO-795
Stay Tuned: In a future post, I will discuss how the benefits of exercise have very little to do with caloric burn, rather it is hormonal modulation that makes it a must in your lifestyle.