It is well known that exercise is good for physical and mental health. But exercise beyond some limits can be unhealthy. According to recent research, there is such a thing as too much exercise. Heart is the centre of the cardiovascular system and having a healthy heart is vital to one’s overall health. Two of the simplest yet most important ways to maintain a good heart health are through diet and exercise. 

Lately, we have come across incidences of cardiac arrest while exercising in gyms. Chronic exercise training and competing in endurance events beyond limit can lead to heart damage and rhythm disorders. People with genetic risk factors are especially vulnerable. Extreme, long term endurance exercise puts equally extreme demands on the cardiovascular system. A study done on marathon runners found that after finishing running events, athletes’ blood samples contained biomarkers associated with heart damage. When the heart endures extreme physical stress repeatedly, the temporary damage may lead to remodelling of the heart and permanent physical changes such as thicker heart walls and scarring of the heart occurs. Moreover, research has found evidence that high intensity exercises can acutely increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest in individuals with underlying cardiac disease like coronary heart disease or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. In a small number of people, exercise can trigger arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, leading to irregular heartbeat. 

Exercise guidelines 

Despite the concern about extreme exercise, there is not much reason for the average person to worry. Exercising on a regular basis in moderation is far better than not exercising at all or overdoing it. For an average individual, a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week is recommended. Moderate exercise is a necessary aspect to boost heart health and includes activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling. In general, light exercises are such that permit a person to carry on a conversation while exercising. 

Resistance exercise 

Resistance exercises like weight-lifting needs special attention, as nowadays going to a gym has become more and more popular, especially in the younger generation. Resistance exercises acutely raise both systolic and diastolic blood pressures, while during movement exercises only the systolic pressure goes up. Systolic pressure is the upper figure and diastolic pressure is the lower figure of blood pressure measurement. In vulnerable people, this sudden rise in diastolic pressure can lead to heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest. One should lift weights only up to the amount that can be lifted easily and repeated 10-12 times without fatigue. Spending more than an hour per week has no additional benefit, on the contrary, it can be harmful to the heart. 

 Balancing exercise regimen with nutritious diet

Eating a healthy balanced diet accompanied by regular exercise is imperative in maintaining physical and mental well-being. When people do a high-intensity workout and eat less, the body tends to use the nutrition kept as a reserve which tends to cause deficiencies. Following fad diets in order to lose weight increases the likelihood of malnutrition and contributes to anaemia, heart diseases, stroke, declining mental health etc. 

Align your nutrition with your exercise regime. 

  • Eat the right kind of carbohydrates. They constitute the main source of energy for our brain and body to function properly. Post a strenuous exercise routine, carbohydrates help replenish and refuel the body. 
  • Additionally, eating quality proteins post workout rebuilds the micro tears in muscles and promotes blood flow into these areas. 
  • Despite what you may have heard, some fats are good for you. While all are calorically dense, some are healthy, and some are not. For example, Polyunsaturated fat is good for the body. These fats are found in foods like sunflower oil, soybean oil and some nuts and seeds, and include the essential omega fatty acids.

 To conclude, exercise in moderation with a healthy diet is strongly recommended for a healthy heart, but people with multiple risk factors for heart disease and those who develop abnormal symptoms after exercise should consult their doctor as soon as possible.

 (Dr Shalin Thakore is the head of the department of Cardiology at Ahmedabad-based Shalby Multispecialty Hospitals.)

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