With the growing popularity of high-intensity interval training, Crossfit, and ultra-marathoning, scientists began to wonder if this level of intense exercise might be bad for the heart. Researchers from The Cooper Institute and UT Southwestern Medical Center analyzed how this type of heightened exercise impacts the risk of heart disease and death, but found no additional risk in highly active individuals.
The study did find that these individuals have an 11 percent greater risk for coronary artery calcification, which can be a sign of atherosclerosis, a disease where plaque builds up in the arteries and gives risk to heart attack and stroke. But investigators found that these calcium levels did not increase the risk of mortality.
“The current study shows no increased risk of mortality in high-volume, high-intensity athletes who have coronary artery calcium,” said Dr. Laura Fina, CEO and Chief Science Officer for The Cooper Institute via release. “Certainly, these highly active people should review their cardiovascular disease risk with their primary care doctor or cardiologists, but there is no reason to think they can’t continue exercising at high levels.”
The data was collected from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, which tracked over 20,000 healthy and active middle-aged men for 15 years and reported their exercise levels and were scanned for coronary calcium. On average, the group did eight hours of high-intensity exercise each week. The Cooper Institute is a nonprofit focused promoting on life-long health and wellness around the world through research and education.
“The question has never been whether exercise is good for you, but whether extreme exercise is bad for you. For the past decade or so, there’s been increasing concern that high-volume, high-intensity exercise could injure the heart. We found that high volumes of exercise are safe, even when coronary calcium levels are high,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine from UT Southwestern Medical Center via release.
“The known benefits of regular physical activity in the general population include decreased mortality, heart disease, diabetes, and many other medical conditions which reminds us how important it is participate in regular physical activity as recommended by the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines,” said Dr. Laura DeFina, Chief Science Officer of The Cooper Institute and first author of the study via release.
The study was published in JAMA Cardiology.