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Exercising as You Age: How Much is Too Much When it Comes to Your Heart?

It has long been known that exercise is good for your heart. You may find many friends or relatives taking up running or exercising intensely nearly every day, but what’s right for someone else’s body may not necessarily be right for yours.

So before you lace up your sneakers and get ready for your workout, you need to know the risks involved. The latest research shows that if you’re not careful – especially as you age – too much intense exercise can actually be life threatening.

Benefits of Exercise on the Heart

Research has shown exercise to be one of the safest and most effective ways to ensure long-term heart health and combat heart disease – including coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart attack, diabetes and stroke.

Regular moderate exercise brings about a number of beneficial biochemical changes in the body that, when combined with other healthy lifestyle factors – such as good nutrition and lack of smoking – will help ward off future heart disease and can also lessen the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke reoccurrence.

What Kind of Exercise is Best – And How Much is Enough?

The key to exercise is to not overdo it, while including adequate recovery time. High intensity exercise over shorter durations of time has proven to be more effective – and put less strain on the heart – than high intensity exercise over a longer duration of time, such as long-distance running.

Dr. Jason Bradley, M.D., a cardiologist with the Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health – one of the Philadelphia region’s leading healthcare systems for cardiology and heart health – agrees.

“Often times, with our hectic daily schedules, it is difficult to make it to the gym. Yet, even ten minutes three times a day is adequate,” he recommends. “I will tell patients to park ten minutes away from their workplace and walk. Ten minutes there and back with ten minutes extra at lunch meets your daily goal.”

Try any of these simple aerobic activities that only require moderate effort:

  • Fast walking or jogging
  • Practicing yoga
  • Bike riding on flat, level ground
  • Partaking in water aerobics
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Pushing a lawn mower

The Risks of Intense Exercise on the Heart

As mentioned, high-intense exercise over longer durations of time isn’t as effective on the body as shorter, more frequent bouts of aerobic activity. In fact, any exercise that is too extreme over a long period of time, such as long-distance running or any type of intense training, can actually be downright risky to your heart, especially as you age.

“There have been several recent studies where the benefits of exercise are maxed out at a certain point, and then excessive exercise counterintuitively becomes detrimental to your health,” Dr. Bradley explains. “Ultra marathon participants, for example, may even demonstrate weakening of the heart muscle.”

According to Dr. Bradley, among many other things in life, moderation is key.

“It is best to start slowly and work your way up to a level that you find comfortable and keeps you in shape,” he advises. “Be smart and remember to stop and see your doctor if you develop chest pain, excessive shortness of breath or passing out.”

Lankenau Heart Institute is the region’s most comprehensive healthcare resource, with a team of more than seventy-five cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons who offer advanced services and expertise across a full continuum of cardiovascular care. Forming the core of the Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health System, are four of the area’s most respected acute care hospitals—Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital.

Find a doctor or schedule an appointment today at www.mainlinehealth.org/heart, or call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654).