Much is written about physical exercise and mostly in the context that we don´t get enough of it. Most of the world’s population is NOT meeting the recommendations from health authorities. On the other hand, there are people who do not get enough of it. In recent years there has been a large increase of competitions and events of extreme physical challenges such as ultra races, Norse-man, Iron Man and similar. For many, the result itself is not important, but having completed hours of activity that is being described as pure joy and where self-torture is used as self-realization.
Some of us are wondering whether all exercise is healthy, or if there is an upper threshold where exercise is no longer healthy? I have previously written about exercise addiction, but want in this post to highlight some scientific findings that looks more on the acute response of prolonged exhausting exercise / competition.
There are many studies showing that the heart is damaged when subjected to prolonged high intensity. Meaning that the heart has a poorer ability to be filled with oxygen-rich blood, and a decreased ability to contract in order to pump it out to the working skeletal muscles. Some also show that the right ventricle is more reduced, compared to the left. A recent study from Sweden shows that the heart can be reduced for 5-8 days after an Iron Woman-competition. By looking at biomarkers in the blood of the competitors, they found strong similarities as found in in people suffering from myocardial infarction. Another recent study from Poland stated that ultra races are directly harmful to health, and they found indications of muscle damage, organ damage and metabolic changes.
It is unclear what the long-term consequences are within these extreme physical challenges. More research is needed to be able know more how such exposure can affect mechanisms in cardiac function, life span and the risk of heart disease over time.
Henning Ofstad Ness, PhD Candidate at CERG