People sought for study on whether too much exercise is unhealthy

Exercise is good for your health. You don’t need a doctor to tell you this, and you don’t need a personal trainer to gain the benefits. Aerobic activities like jogging can improve fitness, promote weight loss, maintain bone strength, and assist in the control of blood sugar. However, even lower-intensity exercise like regular walking can help preserve the health of your blood vessels.

Tired woman sitting on the stairs with bottle of water in gym

Researchers in CSU’s Department of Health and Exercise Science are now asking whether there’s such a thing as getting too much aerobic exercise, and they need more participants for their study.

Ultra-endurance athletes

Colorado tends to top the list for states with the largest percentage of the population being physically active. Activity levels range from casual bicycle commuting to running up Pikes Peak. In fact, long-duration endurance events like arduous 100-mile foot races over rugged mountain trails and grueling triathlons that push the limits of multi-sport athletes are held throughout the Centennial State. However, this popularity is not limited to Colorado. In North American alone, more than 100,000 participants attempted ultra-running races (those with distances greater than 26.2 miles) last year.

To achieve the level of fitness required to qualify for one of these races takes a tremendous amount of mental fortitude and hours of training. The World Health Organization recommends 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week for maintaining overall health. In contrast, individuals competing in ultra-endurance events often complete 10-plus hours of strenuous running, cycling, or swimming each week. This divergence demonstrates a vast contrast between the volumes of exercise needed to be healthy compared to the training required to have the fitness to run a race lasting up to 30 hours.

May be harmful

Considering a relatively small amount of exercise generates some health benefits, it’s sufficient to say that not everyone needs to compete in ultra-endurance races to maintain their well-being. Nonetheless, increasing levels of physical activity tend to be associated with greater health benefits. However, some recent studies suggest that there may be some unexpected heart damage in marathon runners. This raises the question about aerobic exercise: Is there too much of a good thing?

Like many hot topics in health research, more studies are needed to confirm whether extreme volumes of exercise are actually detrimental to cardiovascular function. Currently, researchers in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at CSU are collaborating with top cardiologists from UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland to better understand how the highest volumes of exercise affect heart and blood vessel health.

“What we wanted to do was study individuals who are performing as much as five to six times the recommended physical activity guidelines,” says Nate Bachman, the graduate student coordinating the study. “A number of studies have started to look at this issue in terms of heart health in marathon runners, so our goal is to find people that exercise more than that, and study both heart and blood vessel health — the latter of which has not been investigated in the context of this question.”

At this point, numerous athletes have been tested, but more participants meeting the physical activity recommendations are needed for comparison. Healthy, middle-aged adults (40-65 years old) who perform about two hours of moderate exercise per week who are interested in receiving free heart scans, blood work, bone scans and body fat testing should contact hearthealth@colostate.edu for more information.

CSU University Communications Staff