The Fallacy of " Extreme Exercise"Public
The Fallacy of "Extreme Exercise"
Recently I lost a good friend to pancreatic cancer. He was a wonderful man and was only 48 years of age. Shockingly , the illness took him so quickly, that he died within six weeks of his diagnosis and eight weeks of the first symptoms of the disease.
Needless to say his friends and family have been devastated by this. Of course it's hard to comprehend how this could happen to our friend and what makes it even more shocking is that this was one of the healthiest people we have known. My friend was a professional athlete having been a pro tennis player who continued as an active tennis instructor.
He worked at least six full days per week, most days playing 12 hours of tennis chasing down every ball until the end of his life. He was indefatigable. When he wasn't teaching he was running marathons, doing Iron Man competitions and riding 100 km bike races. His diet included no meat, or fried foods or desserts. He did not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes and had extremely low body fat, and was mostly all muscle. He had an amazing energy level and he did all this because he simply loved it. It was his way of life.
Being a cancer surgeon I have long known that cancer affects people no matter their age or level of physical health and conditioning. I certainly advocate the benefits of exercise in maintaining health. Clearly, the evidence that exercise is good for one's health is overwhelming. Much recent evidence is suggesting however that the health benefits of exercise can be obtained with relatively limited amounts of vigorous exercise. Data suggests that exercising just two days per week can be sufficient to maintain optimal health. Doing approximately 120 minutes or so of aerobic vigorous exercise weekly can likely obtain maximal health benefits. The absolute quantity of exercise is likely less important than the actual quality of the exercise. Additional exercise will improve conditioning but may not bring dramatic additive health effects.
Exercise has beneficial effects upon all organ systems. It reduces the risk of obesity and diabetes and helps with cardiovascular function and brain function. It helps with one’s emotional mood by causing release of serotonin and endorphins, likely reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's as well. It may increase longevity by improving health and delaying cell death. It leads to healthier bones, muscles and skin and reduces levels of fat.
Combining this with a good diet of lean foods, vegetables and fruits and avoidance of excessive amounts of fried and fatty foods and carbohydrates will lead to improved health. Avoiding bad habits such as alcohol, cigarettes, dependence upon medications or drugs is very important as well.
Beyond that, extreme levels of conditioning will not necessarily lead to better health or longevity. Some people choose to do extreme conditioning because they love it or they participate actively in demanding sports where such conditioning will help performance. By all means people should exercise to the point that works for them.
However for all those who can't run marathons or benchpress more than their body weight, don't feel badly. Doing routine amounts of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise coupled with good dietary habits and avoidance of bad habits is all that is needed to help keep your body fit . Do what you can and what works for you and you will benefit. You don’t have to be a marathoner or body builder to benefit from exercise!
The key is to stay active and take care of your body (and mind) since it's the only one you've got!
Wishing you the best of health,
Tom Mesko M.D.