When Cardio Kills!

WELLNESS--Can too much cardio actually kill you? While we know that the effects of cardiovascular exercise is primarily beneficial, there is a growing body of research indicating that too much of this good thing called cardio may actually be dangerous. Like everything considered healthy or unhealthy, extremes on either end seem to be dangerous. 

The reason the media has focused so much on the extreme lack of exercise is because with the large majority of the US and world population, too little exercise is a more common problem than too much. 

On the other end of the spectrum are the people that are drawn into endurance sports like marathons and triathlons. These are the people that must heed the warnings of a number of studies showing that this type of extreme exercise can be dangerous. They have even coined the phrase “athletes heart” referring to cardiac remodeling that happens with endurance athletes.  

This remodeling of the heart is still not well understood by healthcare providers and heart specialists. What we do know is that intense endurance exercise is at times related to cardiac remodeling and arrhythmias which is when the heart beats irregularly either too fast or too slow. 

While there are still more studies that need to be done, this problem of cardiac restructuring mostly involves endurance athletes who perform between 15 and 40 hours of training per week.  Any endurance sport such as running, cycling, triathlons and rowing can cause this phenomenon called athlete's heart. While sudden death among athletes that are 35 and younger is very rare about 1 to 3 in 100000, it does happen. The number of deaths and heart attacks for endurance athletes that are over 35 are substantially higher.   

In any case, the heart has a very complicated electrical system and when someone has heart problems and is an athlete it is difficult to prove that the problems are coming from too much exercise. 

For the large majority of the population, focusing on moving one's body more and not being sedentary is still the best decision. 

For those of you that are entrenched in endurance sports and training cardiovascularly 15 hours or more a week, you may want to do some of your own research as to whether or not you think this is healthy for you. Until we have more definitive studies published, it is impossible to say with certainty that all of this training will harm you. 

With my own patients I always come back to focusing on balance. If you think you’re overtraining and your friends and family are also noticing your intense workout schedule, you may want to reconsider and do a full overhaul on your training strategy for 2018.


(Christian Cristiano is an acupuncturist in LA, TV host of Wellness for Realists and writes on wellness regularly for CityWatch. Christian can be reached at 310.909.6956 twitter: @CristianoWFR )