Cardiologist on exercise: “…more is not better…”

Illustration of an example hormetic dose response.

Illustration of an example hormetic dose response. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love runners. I’ve even tried to be one.

I went from someone who could not fathom the concept of running for enjoyment to somebody who would spontaneously break out in to a jog across campus, not because I was late but simply because I felt like it.

I can see why people fall in love with running (and other endurance athletics). It can bring you to a different realm of consciousness at times. It is truly the most acute example of how exercise can be a drug. The “runners high” is real and fairly attainable to any level of runner.

Like any other drug, exercise can become toxic at some point. The concept of hormesis is something well known to physicians. The picture above shows an inverted U which signifies level of performance. If the dose is too low, you get no or suboptimal results. If the dose is too high, however, the results decline and even plummet lower than if no action had been taken.

Dr. James O’Keefe is a research cardiologist (and self described exercise enthusiast) who has taken a look at the research done on endurance athletes across the world. His findings are shocking and somewhat challenging to life-long movers like myself. Just as my soul started to dive in to an existential crisis, he confirmed the MFW philosophy I wrote about in my very first post:

“We are not born to run…we’re born to walk. We need to be walking more today. We need to be strolling. We need to be moving your body rather than sitting. Every chance you get; move.”

He then goes on to explain how occasional high intensity interval training is beneficial if balanced with a fair amount of slowing-down activities like Yoga, Tai Chi, or even just walking in nature.

The danger of this message is that it may vindicate the sedentary. Despite the fact that a balanced life in motion is truly cardioprotective, some may hear this message and say, “why bother getting up off the couch?” Anybody advocating exercise must be clear on the concept of hormesis so that they may be the best advocate for right movement to others.

The best way to do that is to live it.

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