Many mature athletes believe that doing cardio is the key to being healthy. Because cardio exercises are designed to strengthen the heart, which pumps blood to every part of our body, we think that performing cardio will always benefit us. However, as with everything else in life, doing cardio in excess is not good for us. In fact, many health and fitness experts believe that being a “cardio” junkie can diminish the gains you have obtained from engaging in physical activities throughout the years. Also, it can even put your health at risk.
Doing cardio is not bad, per se. It is a vital part of any fitness program and should be included in your exercise routine. However, the problem starts when “cardio” becomes “chronic cardio.” Performing too much cardio exercises can lead to increased stress hormone levels and inflammation. As you may know, exercise encourages the body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which results in a certain level of inflammation. These aren’t really a cause for concern because they are a natural part of building your endurance, strength, or speed.
Now the problem lies when inflammation and cortisol levels are released faster than your body can properly react to them and heal itself. If you don’t give your body enough time to recover, oxidative stress can occur. This results in the production of free radicals that damage cells and create a toxic environment in your body.
Apart from causing inflammation, increased cortisol levels, and oxidative stress, chronic cardio can also damage the vital organ that cardio exercises target: the heart. As the heart becomes overworked due to overtraining and chronic cardio, its walls become enlarged over time. While having thicker walls of the heart is not usually life-threatening, it can still pose a serious risk to some people, especially among athletes, and lead to certain heart-related problems later on such as:
In a healthy human, the heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. However, when that person has atrial fibrillation or AFib, his heart’s two small upper chambers (atrial) beat irregularly and too fast. This often results in rhythm problems, chronic fatigue, heart failure, cognitive decline, and even stroke. It has been reported that AFib is a common problem among aerobicizers and many of them had pacemakers or defibrillators before they reach the age of 40.
Endurance athletes are said to be at a greater risk of developing AFib. This is due to increased fibrosis (the formation of scar tissue in the heart), myocardial or heart tissue injury, and excessive inflammation that resulted from overtraining.
Endurance-related AFib is usually infrequent at first. However, the older you get and the more miles you run, the more severe your atrial fibrillation becomes. In fact, a number of studies show that almost 40% of athletes with AFib eventually went on to develop persistent AFib, a more serious variety of the condition as it can lead to serious cardiovascular issues.
It might seem impossible for avid runners to develop arterial plaque, but it turns out, it happens in certain cases. A study showed that marathoners had more calcified plaque in their coronary arteries than non-marathoners. What’s more alarming about this is that they don’t display the usual signs of atherosclerosis and they don’t fit the usual traditional risk profile of people with this cardiovascular disease. This makes early detection more challenging.
If you want to avoid health problems in the future, always do cardio exercises in moderation. Mix in weightlifting, short sessions of High-Intensity Training and Yoga/Pilates. This way, you won’t suffer from chronic cardio and it’s potentially debilitating consequences.