Health & Wellness

Can You Exercise Too Much?

The very thing that can prolong your life may create a slight risk if you overdo it


By Katrina Caruso


It’s no secret that exercise can offer a wealth of benefits. The standard recommendation is that you should get about 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. At this rate, exercise helps to fight off chronic illnesses, lower blood pressure, and lead to a healthy BMI range. Exercise can also—among other things—lower your risk for glaucoma, slow Parkinson’s progression, ease cancer patients’ fatigue, ward off dementia, and help prevent arthritis).

Is it possible, however, to get too much of what it is obviously a good thing?

Previous (small-scale) study studies had revealed plaque build-up in the coronary arteries of endurance athletes. So a team of US researchers looked at the medical records of more 21,000 men, the majority in their 50s. (A follow-up study will include women.) The men were divided in to three groups: those who exercised the most (an average of five or more hours a week—the equivalent of running nearly 10 kilometres, or six miles, a day), those who work out less, and those who exercised less than 2.5 hours a week. The study results, published recently in JAMA Cardiology (February 2019), showed that the most active group tended to have the highest levels of plaque in their heart’s arteries.

That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that the most active men also had less risk of premature death than those who didn’t often work out. Researchers noted that the main thing for high endurance athletes to do is to seek treatment should they notice any chest pain or other bodily pain.

It should be noted that there is such a thing as an addiction to exercise, called orthorexia (which can also manifest as compulsive healthy eating), the pursuit of healthy habits at a level that is considered obsessive. If you’re concerned about your habits or those of a loved one, it might be time to speak to a health professional.

Photo: iStock/vgajic.