Working Out for More Than 50 Minutes a Day May Lead to Early Death? Really?

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Just recently, I reviewed a syndicated article online suggesting that more than 50 minutes of endurance exercise “may lead to early death” due to overexertion of the heart. While I understand that writers are pressured by the need for a good headliner, the notion that longer duration exercise is hazardous to heart health is both inaccurate and highly misleading. This article is burdened by 2 primary misinterpretations and I’ll address both.

1. The writer misinterpreted an editorial written by clinicians who used the results of two separate studies to back their claim that “extreme endurance exercise” may pose a threat to cardiovascular health. The studies discussed involved runners and joggers. Herein lines the first issue, overgeneralizing. Are running and jogging the only forms of endurance exercise? Absolutely not as the types of endurance exercise are endless—walking, bicycling, stair climbing, elliptical treading, hiking, basketball, volleyball, racquet sports, group fitness, etc. Furthermore, those of us who exercise on a regular basis may perform these exercise for hours a day. Does this mean that we’re at risk? More than likely this is not the case. Findings from a study that was only inclusive of joggers and runners is biased and cannot be generalized to all types of endurance exercise.

2. The writer points out the fact that individuals in these studies who “ran more quickly” were at increased risk when compared to those who “ran at a comfortable speed at about six to seven miles per hour” but how does this connect to the health risks associated with 50 plus minutes of endurance exercise. Here’s the truth, the ‘Average Joe’ who calls himself a ‘runner’ is actually a jogger because, on average, most people who ‘run’ pace themselves somewhere between four and six miles per hour. Furthermore, it is walking (not running) that is the most popular form of endurance exercise these days and there is ample evidence that walking for prolonged periods of time offers cardiovascular protection. In light of these facts, I would dare say that the general population is not at risk of ‘early death’ from longer duration exercise.

Now here’s the science. Exercise intensity is inversely related to duration, which means that exercises performed at a higher intensity (i.e. high-speed running) should be performed for shorter periods of time while low to moderate intensities of exercise (i.e. walking and jogging) can be performed for longer periods of time. Excessive amounts of high-intensity exercise can impair vascular function (a precursor to heart disease), which is why we as exercise researchers do not recommend prolonged exposure to high-intensity exercise bouts. When viewed in the lens of the science, now suddenly the misinterpreted results make since right? It’s not that too much time spent exercising is a problem, it’s that too much high-intensity exercise may present a problem.

Don’t be discouraged from taking your 5 mile walk because it takes you well over 50 minutes or playing your 2-hour singles tennis game. You won’t be checking out of here any time soon, at least due to your exercise habits. In addition, if you prefer to engage in high-intensities of exercise don’t fret; just alternate your high-intensity days with low- to moderate-intensity days.  

For more of the latest and greatest in health, fitness, and nutrition, "Like" me on Facebook at Nina Cherie, PhD of Complete Health Solutions and follow me on Twitter at @NinaCheriePhD.  

Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.

Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you.  If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise.  However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.

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