In the pursuit of fitness, people push themselves to the limit, often unaware of the thin line between beneficial exercise and dangerous exertion. This line becomes particularly blurred in activities like running, where intensity can escalate quickly. Overexertion can lead to serious health complications, even proving fatal in extreme cases. To shed light on this crucial distinction, we turn to experts who highlight the warning signs and risks associated with pushing the body too far. 

Understanding these limits is essential for anyone engaging in physical activity, emphasizing the importance of listening to your body to prevent potentially life-threatening outcomes. And in the recent past, there have been a number of sudden cardiac deaths in relatively young, and seemingly healthy individuals, during races or celebrities like KK, Sidharth Shukla, the most recent demise of actor Rituraj Singh. Dr Aashish Contractor, Director of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation at Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai sheds light on the kind of exertion over exercising can cause on your heart and health.

Exercise and the heart

“Studies done over several decades, involving millions of participants, have clearly shown the benefit of regular exercise and physical activity to reduce the risk of heart disease. Exercise has both direct and indirect beneficial effects on the heart,” says Dr Aashish.

Exercise and sudden cardiac death

Dr Aashish highlights, “Research has suggested that the commonest causes of these deaths differ in those who are young (below 35 years), versus those who are older. In the younger age group, a condition known as cardiomyopathy is the commonest cause of cardiac arrest and death, while in the older group, a heart attack, which can then lead to a cardiac arrest is the commonest cause of death.”

Can you exercise too much?

It is important to keep in mind, that sudden cardiac death very rarely occurs in someone with a healthy heart. Exercise may be the trigger to have a cardiac event in individuals who have undetected or silent heart disease, but it is almost never the cause. Dr Aashish mentions, “In terms of a single episode of exercise, there is no absolute upper limit defined, and it all depends on the individual’s training level. One should avoid high levels of unaccustomed exertion, the rule of thumb being that any given bout of exercise should not be more than a ten percent increase compared to previous bouts.”

“Another way to look at ‘too much exercise’, is the overall volume of exercise accumulated over the years. Here, the research has shown that a very large volume of exercise, over several decades might cause some changes in the heart muscle, as well as accumulation of calcium in the coronary arteries. At this point, the amount of exercise has not been defined, and the consequences of these changes have not been fully understood,” Dr Aashish further adds.

Regular exercise has great health benefits, and can be safely undertaken by the population at large. It’s important to start at a low level and progress gradually, to a moderate level. During exercise, if you feel any discomfort or unusual symptoms, stop and get yourself evaluated. 


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