Regular, moderate exercise is great for your heart health — but some studies indicate that high-intensity exercise may have diminishing returns.
Experts all agree that exercise is good for the heart — but there’s room for debate surrounding how much exercise you need. Time and again, studies show that a regular amount of moderate exercise lowers your risk of heart disease and other fatal conditions. However, some studies indicate that the benefits of exercise may actually plateau, or even decrease, once your workouts exceed a certain level of intensity.
So, what does the evidence say? At a certain point, does intense exercise actually have diminishing returns?
The benefits of exercise for your heart
Exercise works by strengthening your heart, and by improving blood flow from your heart to the rest of your body. A solid, regular workout can stave off a wide variety of fatal conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Other heart-healthy benefits of exercise include strong blood vessels, improved levels of good cholesterol (HDL), and regulated blood sugar.
Moderate exercise means your heart rate stays up for a steady period of time, without exerting intense strain on your heart or muscles. There’s no single way to determine what constitutes “moderate” exercise — it can be jogging, swimming, basketball, or a number of other activities. Your ability to speak during exercise is a good indicator of its intensity level. During moderate exercise, you’ll probably be able to speak a few words, but you’ll be too winded to carry on a full conversation.
Studies have shown that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (30 minutes per day, 5 times per week) is enough to strengthen your cardiovascular system and decrease your risk of related diseases. If you’re looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle, a regular habit is the key to success.
Is there such a thing as “too much exercise”?
Some studies indicate that very high levels of cardiovascular exercise may not contribute to your heart health more than a moderate amount. This is because some experts theorize that high-intensity activities — like marathon running, competitive weight training, and long-distance swimming — may put too much strain on your cardiovascular system, which can outweigh the positive effects of exercise.
There is some evidence to support this theory. According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a cardiovascular system may actually risk the same amount of complications as a sedentary heart when it is overexerted due to intense exercise. This theory indicates that physically active people should avoid pushing themselves to their limits, to optimize long-term heart health.
Marathon lovers and CrossFit enthusiasts rejoice: the theory of diminishing returns is far from a scientific consensus. The notion that high-octane workouts aren’t heart-healthy is not widely accepted by experts. In fact, a recent study from PLOS Medicine suggests that the risk of cardiovascular disease steadily decreases as exercise gets more intense. With a massive sample size of several thousand exercisers, experts found that the most intense 25% of exercise routines were actually the most beneficial for heart health.
Manage your heart health the right way
In short, the jury’s still out as to whether intense exercise has diminishing returns. But the benefits of moderate exercise for your heart are accepted across all experts in the field. If you’re looking to improve your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease, or simply stay fit, 150 minutes of medium-intensity exercise per week can work wonders.
Visiting a qualified cardiologist is another key way to focus on your heart health. Whether you have a chronic condition or just want a check-up, request an appointment at Tri-City Cardiology. Our heart specialists will help you understand your heart, and develop a heart health action plan. At Tri-City, we believe the heart is the most important muscle in your body — and it deserves the best treatment you can give.