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Too Much Exercise Can Kill, Researchers Warn

Update Date: Aug 12, 2014 02:46 PM EDT

You can have too much of a good thing, according to a new exercise study that found that overdoing workouts can be fatal for heart attack survivors.

While regular physical activity keeps the heart healthy by lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and type 2 diabetes, new research reveals that people can get too much exercise.

After analyzing the link between exercise and heart disease-related deaths in about 2,400 physically active heart attack survivors.

The latest study revealed a dose-dependent reduction in deaths from cardiovascular events for up to 65 percent of patients who ran less than 30 miles or walked less than 46 miles per week. However, people who walked or ran more weekly seemed to get less benefits.

"These analyses provide what is to our knowledge the first data in humans demonstrating a statistically significant increase in cardiovascular risk with the highest levels of exercise," researchers wrote in the study. 

"Results suggest that the benefits of running or walking do not accrue indefinitely and that above some level, perhaps 30 miles per week of running, there is a significant increase in risk. Competitive running events also appear to increase the risk of an acute event," they added.

However, researchers noted that "our study population consisted of heart attack survivors and so the findings cannot be readily generalized to the entire population of heavy exercisers."

"Extrapolation of the data from the current Williams and Thompson study to the general population would suggest that approximately one out of twenty people is overdoing exercise," Dr. James H. O'Keefe, from the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, and first author of an editorial on "Exercising for Health and Longevity versus Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals," which appears in the same journal as the latest study, said in a news release.

"For patients with heart disease, almost all should be exercising, and generally most should be exercising 30-40 minutes most days, but from a health stand-point, there is no reason to exercise much longer than that and especially not more than 60 minutes on most days," co-author Dr. Carl "Chip" Lavie said in a news release. "As Hippocrates said more than 2,000 years ago, 'if we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.' I and my co-authors believe this assessment continues to provide wise guidance."

The findings are published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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