New advice suggests that people with heart conditions and those who do not exercise regularly may be at risk of cardiovascular events when participating in intense exercise.
The American Heart Association (AHA) have published a
They also suggest that people with sedentary lifestyles should develop progressive exercise regimens and build up to intense exercise.
It is also important that people with heart conditions speak to a doctor before starting an exercise program — regardless of its intensity.
The statement notes that the growing awareness around the health benefits of exercise has encouraged many people to become more active. However, this has also increased the number of people engaging in high intensity exercise that their bodies may not be prepared for.
Studies have definitively demonstrated the importance of physical activity for a healthy life. Exercise carries a range of benefits, including lowering the risk of major physical health issues and providing benefits for mental health.
Specifically, an article in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that physical activity may reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 35% and mortality in general by 33%.
An article in the British Journal of Pharmacology goes as far as to suggest that “exercise is so effective that it should be considered as a drug.”
The authors of the new scientific statement point out that as this information has become more widely known and accepted, many more people are engaging in exercise than before.
This also includes an increase in people doing more intense forms of exercise.
According to the authors of the advice, “Worldwide participation in endurance training, competitive long distance endurance events, and high intensity interval training has increased markedly since the previous [AHA] statement on exercise risk.”
Although exercise provides many benefits for health, it may also carry some risks for certain groups of people.
According to Prof. Barry A. Franklin — chair of the writing committee for the new statement and a professor of physiology at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI — “Exercise is medicine, and there is no question that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is beneficial to overall cardiovascular health.”
“However, like medicine, it is possible to underdose and overdose on exercise — more is not always better and can lead to cardiac events, particularly when performed by inactive, unfit, individuals with known or undiagnosed heart disease.”
– Prof. Barry A. Franklin
In particular, high intensity exercise can be especially taxing on a person’s cardiovascular system.
“More people are running marathons, participating in triathlons, and doing high intensity interval training. The purpose of this statement is to put the benefits and risks of these vigorous exercise programs [into] perspective,” explains Prof. Franklin.
The updated scientific statement took more than 300 studies into account when making its recommendations. It makes clear that for the vast majority of people, getting more exercise is important. This is because the benefits far outweigh the risks.
However, for people who are not physically active and those who have underlying medical conditions, suddenly doing significantly more intensive exercise could increase the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.
For example, in their review of the literature, the authors found that first-time participants in triathlons made up almost 40% of the cardiovascular events that occurred, highlighting the potential of inadequate training increasing the risk of an adverse event.
Due to their findings, the authors suggest that people who want to increase their physical activity levels should start with an easy exercise regimen and build up the amount and intensity over time.
As Prof. Franklin says, “It is important to start exercising — but go slow, even if you were an athlete in high school.”
For example, if a person does very little physical activity, they could begin by regularly walking. Then, when this becomes easy, they could try regularly walking uphill, then building up to some light jogging.
The authors also suggest that if a person has a heart condition, they should check with a doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Despite the potential risks the statement outlines, people should not take it to mean that they should avoid high intensity exercise. For the vast majority of people, getting more exercise is beneficial, and doing this in a controlled way that steadily increases the intensity is low risk.
As the statement’s authors conclude, “The benefits associated with long-term exercise training outweigh the risks for the majority of the population.”