More on Chronic Cardio and Longevity
This is a bit of a follow up to a comment that was left on the blog post “Central Versus Peripheral Adaptations.” A reader named Craig left the following comment:
After reading lots of blog posts on strength oriented web sites about how “cardio” and “aerobics” aren’t really that great for improving cardiovascular condition, I was surprised by the first chart on central adaptions. It sure looks like cardio does excel at “pumping up” the heart muscle….
For those who missed the graph in said post, take a look:
Those abbreviations are for various physical dimensions of the heart muscle. And Craig is correct in that when you look at just these measures, cardiorespiratory activity looks really, really great for the heart. These measures are what Dr. James O’Keefe would call “structural cardiovascular changes” and “elevations of cardiac biomarkers.” The literature calls this the “Athlete’s Heart.” The problem is that everything looks good on the outside, but there is more to heart health than the size of the muscle. What about function?
Long term, long distance training is associated with a number of negative changes to the heart, including:
- patchy myocardial fibrosis
- increased susceptibility to atrial and ventricular arrhythmias
- coronary artery calcification
- diastolic dysfunction
- large-artery wall stiffening
And to that list increased coronary artery plaque volume. In a study published in April in the The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, researchers found that middle-aged males who had run at least 25 marathons (1 marathon/year) had “paradoxically” nearly double the total plaque and calcified plaque volumes, and nearly 1.5 times the non-calcified plaque volume when compared to an age-matched control group.
The problem in largely similar to the above: they “look” fit, and therefore the public assumes this confers a health advantage. In this study, the runners had lower resting heart rates, Body Mass Index, and triglyceride levels than the sedentary controls. So they also win the “what is your cholesterol?” game. As shown above, your cholesterol can be really, really great,but it’s the wrong measure to be using in this population to determine the health and function of the cardiac system.
Being fit and exercising confers a health benefit, but leveling off of these benefits from exercise happens in very short order. Take a look:
So the first and larger drop in health problems (the steepest lines on the left) occur with less than an hour of exercise per week. After that you may start to look better but the health benefits have dropped off considerably. This is why we focus on this space at Efficient Exercise.
Finally, if it seems like I’m picking on Cardiorespiratory training, don’t assume that resistance training doesn’t have it’s own problems. Joint and soft tissue problems also track with increased lifting volume and tonnage, which is why the “beat up old weight lifter” is much more common than the “80 year old powerlifter who has trained all of his life.” The dose makes the poison: running 5k and 10k distances are far less likely incur the damage mentioned above, just as lifting once or twice a week for half an hour is far less likely to incur the soft tissue problems I just noted.
Skyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science. He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.