Will CARDIO Cause Aging & Heart Damage? with Keith Spennewyn
Learn why your clients store fat and where they store it when this hormone comes into play...and what to do about it.
It’s interesting when you keep seeing articles pop up that tell you that cardio makes you older, that it can harm your heart or cause some other kind of harm. One cannot but help imagine it coming from groups who hate the idea of exercise and so look for adequate reason not to. So, let’s explore this concept and see if it is true or not.
The Effects of Certain Exercise On The Body
Though moderate-intensity cardio exercise has been found protective, chronic overtraining might stress your body to the point of increased physical aging and associated injury. There, we said it. A number of studies have shown negative effects on soft tissue caused by exercising too intensely, too long or without adequate rest — including cardio exercise. But, while this may be obvious, there is more to it than meets the eye.
The research also found that people who ran multiple long distance events had some heart problems, and showed signs of aging. But, was that because they ran outside in the hot sun? Was it because they did not hydrate themselves adequately? Was it because they did not eat enough to support their activity, forcing the body to take more calories from its muscle tissues (including the heart)? The research did not make those determinations. So, before such accusations can be made, all parameters must be thoroughly considered.
It is true, your body perceives endurance exercise as stress and responds by increasing cortisol, the “flight or fight” hormone. But, that is a normal adaptive response to the physical demands of exercise, and in time actually helps your body to handle stress better, not worse. Certainly, chronic elevations in cortisol are associated with signs of aging such as inflammation, loss of lean mass, belly fat and reduced immunity. But exercise reduces this overall affect and numerous studies reveal decreased mortality with increased fitness levels.
An increase in oxidative stress is another normal response to cardio, but different factors should be considered here. For example, sedentary overweight people tend to have signs of inflammation and oxidative stress just by virtue of having excess body fat, particularly belly fat. They could benefit from moderate cardio, as shown by a 2013 study published in the journal “Nutrition & Diabetes” in which researchers found a decrease in inflammation and obesity in sedentary subjects after three months of moderate exercise. We certainly do not see these problems in exercisers, so something is obviously amiss.
A 2012 study of 40 endurance athletes published in the “European Heart Journal” found exercise-induced heart problems reversed in most of the subjects during the recovery period. Similar results were found in a 2012 study of 25 older marathon runners published in the “Journal of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance.” Both studies attributed lingering cardiac problems experienced by a few of the subjects to underlying health issues. However, a larger 2012 study published in the “European Heart Journal” followed up on a cohort of 52,755 cross-country skiers with no history of heart disease. Researchers in this study found that those who trained the hardest and the most often were most likely to experience chronic cardiac issues even years later.
Cardiovascular exercise has long been touted for weight loss and cardiovascular health. But, excessive endurance exercise, especially when accompanied by inadequate calorie intake can deplete valuable muscle tissue because your body can turn to muscle as an energy source. This can be compounded by the potential muscle-depleting effect of increased cortisol. Muscle loss is correlated with a decline in metabolic rate and relative increase in body fat commonly experienced by aging people. Progressive muscle loss, or age-related sarcopenia, is an expected part of the aging process in older adults who do not engage in resistance exercise.
Little hard evidence exists that moderate cardiovascular exercise accompanied by adequate rest and nutrition causes physical aging or heart damage. Moderate cardio might actually slow aging by conditioning your body to adapt to stress. By contrast, signs of aging such as loss of lean body mass; increased belly fat; oxidative stress; inflammation and heart damage could be a potential consequence of excessive cardio without adequate caloric compensation and rest. Many variables are involved: the frequency, intensity and duration of cardio sessions; whether other exercises such as resistance training are also incorporated; diet; sleep; stress levels and hormonal factors.
So, perform cardio to achieve fitness benefits, but practice moderation to decrease the risk of health issues. As always, adequate rest after moderate cardiovascular events should be followed by 12-24 hours of rest/recovery. Marathons, resistance training and cardio events exceeding three hours should be followed by 48-72 hours of rest/recovery. Obviously, adequate nutrition and caloric compensation for your clients and their programming should also be observed.
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