The benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle
There are many proven physical and mental health benefits of getting enough physical activity. When you are physically active, your body releases hormones like serotonin, also known as the ‘happy’ hormone, which can help improve your mood. Exercise is also good for cardiovascular health.
It increases your metabolism, helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and helps you better manage stress.
If you are regularly physically active, you are likely to:
The dangers of being too active
While we all know that exercise is good for you, like anything else, too much (pushing it to the extreme) can be a bad thing, especially for your heart. This doesn’t mean you should avoid physical activity entirely as a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses. So the real question now is how much exercise is good enough for you?
How much physical activity is recommended?
The intensity of physical activity can be broken down into 2 categories: moderate and vigorous. A few examples of moderate-intensity activities include walking, hiking, water aerobics, slow-paced cycling, gardening and ballroom dancing. High-intensity activities include race walking, jogging, or running, swimming laps, aerobic dancing and jumping rope.
While the recommended physical activity depends on factors such as your age and current state of health, most adults should take at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity activities. Pushing it beyond that may increase your risk of health complications.
How does excessive exercise affect your heart?
There is some controversy surrounding whether exercising too much can over-stress the heart. People who engage in extremely high volumes of exercises at high intensities well above the recommended guidelines for exercise may actually be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. High levels of physical activity over time may cause stress on your arteries, leading to higher coronary artery calcification (CAC). Studies have found that people who participated in at least 450 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (3 times the recommended amount) are more likely to develop CAC. The increased levels of calcium build-up in the arteries hamper the flow of blood to the heart and can be a marker of early coronary heart disease.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is the narrowing of the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to your heart. It usually happens when cholesterol accumulates on the walls of your arteries, creating plaque that causes the coronary arteries to narrow. When this happens, the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart may become too low, especially during physical activity. In some cases, a clot can obstruct the flow of blood to the heart.
The condition is a major cause of illness and death, commonly causing angina pectoris (chest pain), shortness of breath, myocardial infarction, or heart attacks.
4 other ways excessive exercise can affect your body
- Decreased libido – For men, intense exercise has been shown to decrease libido. This is due to lower testosterone levels and physical fatigue.
- Female athlete triad – Women who over-exercise and restrict their calorie intake to the extreme are at risk of osteoporosis, eating disorders and loss of menstruation (amenorrhea).
- Injuries – For both men and women, over-exercise raises the risk of overuse injuries such as tendinitis and stress fractures. These injuries result from repetitive trauma.
- Weaker immune system – While moderate exercise can improve your immune system, excessive exercise can actually suppress it. There is a 72-hour window of impaired immunity after intense exercise. This means viruses and bacteria may have an easier time invading and infecting the body.
Since you have no way of knowing how much stress your heart can take, try going for a heart screening. Your doctor will be able to advise you if you are overstressing your health.
Article reviewed by Dr Lim Choon Pin, cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospitals
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