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How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

June 18, 2012, 6:21 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

Many of you exercise for better health, but if you exercise too much, you could actually cause permanent damage to your heart.

A new study published by the Mayo Clinic suggests that excessive endurance exercises, like ultramarathons, are at risk.

Kevin Smith not only enjoys getting in a workout while taking in the wilderness, but the Brandon man competes in ultramarathons, some 100 miles long.

"The longer ones are the most fun for us. If you're going to run, you might as well run all day," Smith said.

Smith runs for both his physical and mental health, but his favorite part of races is the social aspect.

"Mostly it's to be with my buddies and get into the forest or off in the mountains, kind of away from everybody," Smith said.

But a new study linking excessive endurance exercise to heart problems raises questions.  Director for the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford Dr. Michael Bergeron says he's not surprised by the study.

"If you work too hard, too long, even if you're an elite athlete, muscles can break down, what they call rhabdomyolysis, and that can be deadly," Bergeron said.

Bergeron emphasizes that more research needs to be done, and you should definitely not avoid hitting the trail and exercising because of this study.

"All adults should be getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic-type activity every day at least five days a week, accumulating to about 150 minutes a week," Bergeron said.

Bergeron says anything much more than that will not improve your health, but runners like Smith shouldn't give up their ultramarathons just yet. They should take safety precautions though, like allowing recovery time after a race and slowly increasing your workout time.

"This is a long-term process, so you can't just decide, 'Next week, I'm going to do that.'  If you do, chances are you are going to get hurt. Maybe the best thing that can happen is you collapse from fatigue before you really get into trouble," Bergeron said.

Those are steps Smith has been taking, running for months to prepare for a 50-mile race this weekend. After that, he tends to take off his running shoes for a few weeks.

"Don't push your body to the point of breaking down, whether it's your heart or anything else. If you want to do this for the rest of your life, in your 70s and 80s, your body does need some down time," Smith said.

Bergeron also says if you over-exercise, it can lead to chronic fatigue, muscle strains and stress fractures, but exercising for the right amount of time increases cardio-respiratory fitness, which is one of the best things you can do to improve your health.

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