Sunday 29 March 2015

Why exercise in moderation is key to making progress

Declan Coyle

Published 26/08/2014 | 02:30

Roz is an avid runner and cyclist
Roz is an avid runner and cyclist

There is one thing for sure in your life. Twelve months from now you will be either better or worse. Should you line up a year of exercise, or can we overdo exercise in the same way that we overdo eating or drinking?

Most of us don't meet the recommended amount of weekly physical activity despite research that shows exercise can be just as effective as drugs to treat diseases such as diabetes.

Exercise - is there an upper limit? At which point do the helpful effects start dropping off or begin to do more harm than good?

That's what Paul Williams, a US scientist wanted to know, and they found out in a new report published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

He started off with a group of heart attack survivors. As the data continued to emerge, it began to appear that exercise, like any other prescription, could be dangerous in high doses.

Those who had had heart attacks and ran more than 30 miles a week or spent more than six hours in vigorous activity weekly were at an increased risk, up to twice as much, of dying from a heart event.

"I certainly expected a point of diminishing return, but I wasn't expecting to see the increase in mortality," says Williams.

In contrast, those who exercised moderately, which is to say more than the admittedly low recommended minimum, but not as much as the extremely active, lowered their risk of heart-related death by 63pc compared to those exercising the least.

"I would say the gains of being active are substantial," says Williams, "but up to a certain point".

Williams stresses that the results only apply to a relatively small group of people who have a history of heart disease and who exercise at high levels.

For now, says Williams, "The message is that at least for heart attack survivors, more is better, but only up to a point."

According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running five minutes per day can reduce an individual's risk of premature death by about three years.

Researchers found that people who ran less than an hour per week also saw an increase in lifespan, not just a decrease in risk of premature death.

The study took place over the course of 15 years, testing participants ranging in age from 18-100. Separate research found that running more than 20 miles per week could take years off an individual's life, providing further evidence that less can be more with regard to exercise. According to that research, individuals who exhibit consistent but moderate exercise patterns are likely to live the longest.

"What we need are more people doing moderate exercise daily, and not running heroic distances. You can get 70pc to 80pc of the benefit of exercise from doing it 15 to 30 minutes a day," says US cardiologist Dr James O'Keefe.

He found that physical activity, like any medical treatment, can be harmful if it's overdone.

For someone who doesn't love exercise, but is looking to significantly benefit his or her heart, the ideal amount is about 30 minutes a day at least three days a week.

I suppose it comes back to what our mothers used to say to us, 'everything in moderation'.

That's the beauty of the 100 FIT Days.

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