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Jockology: how much exercise is too much?

July 18th, 2011

This week’s Jockology column in the Globe and Mail takes a look at the debate about whether too much exercise is actually bad rather than good for you, drawing on recent studies about cardiac fibrosis in elite endurance athletes, epidemiological data from the National Runners’ Health Study, and — to be topical — Tour de France riders:

Given the number of cyclists in this year’s Tour de France who have skidded off mountain passes, been sideswiped by passing cars or catapulted into barbed-wire fences, it’s obvious that riding in the Tour can be hazardous to your health.

But what about the riders who make it to the finish line in Paris, having covered 3,430.5 heart-pounding, leg-draining kilometres in three weeks? Does their gruelling training regimen make them healthier, or does too much of a good thing leave them worse off? Medical opinion has flip-flopped over the years as our understanding of the heart’s response to exercise has increased, but a new study on the most important outcome of all – staying alive – suggests that Tour riders do better than average. [READ THE ARTICLE...]

 

  1. Barry
    July 19th, 2011 at 11:00 | #1

    Hi Alex

    This subject seems to always generate a big debate. You have the “meat” heads who think running kills people then you have the hardcore endurance athletes that train 5hrs everyday and live happily ever after ! The simple answer is that there is no simple answer ! Like everything related to health, its always a combination of several factors.

    Having said that, the TdF study and the Lawerence Berkley study surely has to be enough evidence to prove that endurance exercise doesn’t kill everybody and actually improves health ! Its a little more than “anecdotal” and ironically the people that claim it is seem to then provide their own anecdotal evidence by claiming to know “1 person” who died at the age of 50 while running !!!! hilarious

  2. Dan Way
    July 19th, 2011 at 17:26 | #2

    Hey Alex. Very interesting topic indeed. It actually happens to be closely related to my MSc thesis topic at U of T investigating high commitment to exercise in recreational ‘athletes’ (regular Joe and Janes) and whether there is any evidence that exercise behaviour can become “unhealthy” which could also include terms like excessive, obsessive, compulsive and addictive. I don’t plan to investigate the physical risks associated with exercise (although overuse injuries, illness, and chronic pain are quite common) but rather on the psychological and social consequences of committed exercise behaviours. Clearly for some, exercise can become maladaptive and interfere with one’s life in a number of debilitating and (clinically) significant ways which can ultimately (and perhaps negatively) impact one’s overall health and well-being.

  3. alex
    July 25th, 2011 at 00:42 | #3

    @Barry: I wish this was the kind of debate that could be settled by evidence! Unfortunately, I suspect we’ll still be having the same discussions in 50 years: “I had a cousin whose friend’s roommate ran marathoners, and he had terrible arthritis [or died of a heart attack, or was abducted by aliens or whatever]. That’s why I don’t think it’s safe to run as much as you do!”

  4. alex
    July 25th, 2011 at 00:49 | #4

    @Dan Way
    Hey Dan: Fascinating topic! I’d love to hear more about how you’re going to study this topic, and how you’ll measure the outcomes. Anyone who hangs out with any group of competitive runners for long enough can see pretty clearly that the line between “dedication” and “compulsion” gets crossed quite frequently. Even among the “addicted,” I think it only becomes maladaptive for a small fraction, but it’s still a real issue.

    As an aside, I’m taking the day off running. First time in at least a month, I think. :)

  1. July 18th, 2011 at 21:54 | #1