Can high intensity exercise damage your heart?

New research suggests hard core gym bunnies could be doing more harm than good

Can high intensity exercise damage your heart?


Scientists from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute looked at previous studies to investigate the relationship between high intensity exercise and cardiac issues. 

Sports cardiologist and lead researcher Dr André La Gerche, believes that high intensity workouts are “cardiotoxic”, and says that there is compelling evidence supporting the relationship between high intensity training and the development of heart problems.

Our research looks at the “often questionable, incomplete, and controversial science behind the emerging concern that high levels of intense exercise may be associated with some adverse health effects,” he said.

Gerche argues that all therapies, including exercise, can have a “dose-response relationship” whereby too much can have a negative effect on your health. 

And in contrast to common belief that some heart problems are a result of underlying issues triggered by exercise, he believes that exercise could actually be the cause of these issues in the first place.

Gerche and his team examined whether there was a “non-linear dose-response relationship with exercise” and whether “endurance exercise in athletes was associated with irregular heartbeats”.

They found conflicting evidence between research supporting the benefits of regular exercise and smaller studies that looked at the negative effects of high intensity exercise.

“The answers regarding the healthfulness of extreme exercise are not complete and there are valid questions being raised,” he said. “Given that this is a concern that affects such a large proportion of society, it is something that deserves investment.”

But don’t ditch your HIIT session just yet as Nathan Johnson, spokesperson for Exercise & Sports Science Australia, says it’s only unsafe for people “who don’t already have a fairly good level of fitness.” 

“HIIT is extremely strenuous and puts incredible strain on the cardiovascular system, muscles and joints,” he said.  “And any woman over 55 or man over 45 should seek medical clearance before starting this kind of intense exercise program.”

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