As part of our Corporate Social Responsibility, while delivering a talk on the prevention of Heart ailments for the staff of a leading hotel recently, I was prodded by a probing question from the audience regarding the effectiveness of exercise in the prevention of a heart attack. A forty year old staff member of the hotel who had been an avid gym enthusiast and was extremely fit physically, had died suddenly although he did not have any addiction or disease. Apparently, he had had a heart attack.
The questioner was perplexed as to how a super fit person could die of the very disease that he had been trying to prevent by adopting a high intensity Fitness regimen. He was also clueless, as to whether hankering after a well-toned body was really a wise idea after all.
The answer to this query is quite thought-provoking and intriguing.
The pros and cons of this new fad for body fitness that has taken the modern Alfa generation by storm therefore need careful consideration. In a recent estimate, requests for specialised training at gyms in India are catapulting at a phenomenal rate of 15% every month! Modern, trendy city gymnasiums are full of people who are quite literally flaunting their sculpted bodies. They are frequent visitors, exercising multiple times a day sometimes. Many such zealots regularly consume energy drinks and packaged energy solutions even though the scientific validity of such supplements has not been established so far. These are the fitness freaks who are actually the most vulnerable to heart attacks. New evidence suggests that excessive endurance exercises may be detrimental to the interest of ‘regular folks’. They may cause pathological changes in the heart and lead to rhythm disturbances, heart attacks and heart failure. This exercise paradox is easily understood when we look carefully at the proposed scientific exercise recommendation. It says, “Moderate intensity exercise for about 40 minutes a day and five times a week is good for the heart.” Thus, there is a close correlation between the intensity, timing and optimum benefits of workouts. However, compulsive exercisers often tend to overdo these recommendations. Top notch athletes and sportspersons who are idols, usually undertake such rigorous training under the guidance of a team of specialists in sports medicine. They allow a gradual buildup of stamina and a steady recuperation of endurance activity over a period of time. On the other hand, a corporate executive working under the stresses of organisational competition may actually be putting himself at risk by overzealous workouts.
The term ‘Exercise heart disease’, may thus be a suitable one for those fitness freaks whose extreme physical regimen may actually be counterproductive rather than beneficial for health.
The middle path would perhaps be a balanced mix of moderate workouts, aerobic exercises, yoga and a healthy nutritive diet. Those in their forties and fifties need to be more wary in this regard. Their regular exercise programme should combine aerobics with weight lifting and should be punctuated with short periods of rest for physiological recovery. There is no denying the fact that being physically active is the best way of guarding against cardiovascular disease. This is a time tested mantra, but we must also remember the old maxim, "too much of a good thing is bad.”
Dr. Arun Kochar
Senior Interventional Cardiologist