Have you ever asked yourself if you’re doing too much cardio? Working out your cardiovascular system is great for your fitness and general well-being, however, just like any other good thing, it can be overdone to the point where you start to experience diminishing returns and health problems associated with chronic cardio.
The heart is a muscle that simply does what it’s told. It beats faster or slower according to the biochemical changes in your blood. This is how it knows when it is time to beat faster or slower. An increase in demand for oxygen in your muscles will make it beat faster to get hemoglobinized blood to the muscles that need it the most.
Chronic cardio becomes a problem because we must train our minds to ignore the pain and fatigue that would otherwise get us to stop in order to keep the heart beating fast enough to keep your muscles oxygenated. This is the foundation of all endurance training because you have to push through the pain. Once you learn how to keep your brain from shutting you down, you can keep your exercise going for longer and this is dangerous because it puts a lot of strain on the heart which will keep pumping at a high rate until your brain tells it to stop, or you pass out.
Chronic Cardio’s Effect on Your Heart
The heart is one muscle that feels close to nothing, except in the case of heart attack. When you do a lot of cardio, your heart reacts just like any other muscle would, gaining mass and becoming stronger to cope with the demands that you put on it. The problem with this is that when you work out your biceps, you can clearly tell when it gets sore and it’s time to stop before it tears. Unfortunately, the heart is not wired to send out such signals until after the damage is done.
Your heart muscles won’t tear the way a triceps would. Instead, they will continue to get larger and thicker and it will not be a problem for most people however athletes who endure chronic cardio suffer heart-related issues such as arrhythmia and ischemic heart disease later in life which are caused by their abnormally thick cardiac muscles.
A good way to prevent heart hypertrophy from being dangerous is to avoid smoking, eat a healthy diet and watch out for symptoms of high blood pressure. An EKG can give a conclusive diagnosis on whether a person is suffering from the ill effects of a hypertrophied heart. The most common treatment for this condition is by prescribing drugs such as beta blockers to reduce high blood pressure.
Oxidative stress is when the body is struggling to get enough oxygen to where it’s needed. This is a good thing when exercising because it makes the body more efficient and stronger in the long-run however extended periods of oxidative stress will wear your tissue out.
When in a state of oxidative stress there is an imbalance between the body’s levels of free radicals and its ability to get rid of them by using antioxidants. Oxygen by-products are usually unreactive however free radicals are the exception because the unpaired electrons make them especially reactive when they come into contact with other oxygen-loving molecules. DNA molecules and proteins are particularly vulnerable to ionization by free radicals.
Problems caused by oxidative stress include heart failure, side stitches, inflammatory diseases and gene mutations which lead to cancers. People who suffer from oxidative stress can eat more foods rich in antioxidants to reduce the harmful effects however if the oxidative stress is caused by chronic cardio, then it would be wiser to adopt a more relaxed workout routine.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is when the heart’s two upper chambers do not beat at the right pace. AFib causes them to beat too fast and irregularly which reduces the heart’s ability to distribute oxygenated blood effectively.
AFib is a serious problem for athletes and people who work out a lot when they pass 40 years of age. One study showed that the best athletes in their fields were more likely to suffer from arrhythmia than moderate exercisers. The reason behind this was found to be that endurance athletes have more scar tissue on their hearts as well as higher levels of inflammation.
On its own, people can live with atrial fibrillation however it can increase a person’s risk of suffering from a stroke which is why so many athletes over the age of 40 have to put on pacemakers. Cholesterol and alcohol are known to make AFib worse. Therefore, any athlete who endures chronic cardio would be wise to avoid them.
Arteriosclerosis is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries over time which blocks blood from flowing and puts you at an increased risk of suffering from a heart attack. This condition is common in elderly people however chronic cardio is causing athletes to suffer from its life-threatening effects at a younger age.
The heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it hypertrophies with excessive use. The expanding and thickening of its walls makes it perfect for operating during exercise however when you are at a resting rate the muscles are simply too thick to allow adequate amounts of blood to flow through. This puts the patient at increased risk of blood clots and the buildup of plaque.
Treatment for arteriosclerosis can either be with drugs of through surgery. Surgery to treat it is based on trying to widen the blocked arteries so that blood can flow more freely or to remove the buildup of plaque while the drugs act to lower blood pressure and keep plaque from building up.
Athletes who have arteriosclerosis as result of chronic cardio should not stop exercising altogether. They should keep doing aerobic exercises to lower their cholesterol levels however they should exercise for no more than 30 minutes per session.
Is Chronic Cardio Worth the Risk?
Most workout and fitness groups agree that exercise is best taken with sufficient amounts of rest, with the golden amount of time for prolonged cardio being no more than one hour. This is largely the view of weight-lifters and paleo enthusiasts, however, marathon runners, and endurance athletes think differently.
Despite the risks involved in chronic cardio when you run without stopping, aerobic exercise is very good for you. It aids in weight loss, strengthens your heart and gives you a good reason to go outside for a run. Even the elevated levels of cortisol and inflammation associated with endurance training are good for you to an extent.
What you need to do is find the right balance so that you can enjoy the benefits of prolonged cardio without crossing into the red zone. Keep exercising but don’t work yourself too hard and you’ll be much healthier than those who don’t do any cardio exercise at all.
Latest posts by Amber Irwin (see all)
- Take a Break or Suffer the Effects of Chronic Cardio - January 30, 2017