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Exercise is among our most powerful tools for maintaining wellness, both in the present and as a method of prevention.  This conventional wisdom is backed by study after countless study, as well as by anecdotal reports.  Whether it’s simply walking up stairs or creating a rigorous training regimen, exercise irrefutably has the power to promote weight loss and immune strength, prevent cardiovascular disease and even boost mental health.  Each of these results leads to lowered risk of almost every disease imaginable.

But for those of us with the best workout intentions but the busiest lives, the latest research on what consists of a healthy amount of exercise comes as somewhat of a relief.

As with many habits related to wellness, evidence is emerging that the key to optimal results may lie in moderation.   According to James O’Keefe, primary author of “Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise” published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, years of repetitive extreme endurance exercise such as running marathons and triathlons have been shown cause damage to the heart, including arrhythmia and calcification of the arteries.   The recent death by heart attack of Micah True, an ultramarathon runner featured in Christopher McDougal’s book “Born to Run” has brought the attention of exercise scientists and journalists to the concept of excessive exercise and its impact on health and wellness.

Mass heart damage in action?

One longitudinal study tracked the rate of mortality of all causes in 52,656 American adults who exercised in varying amounts.  Those whose exercise of choice was running were on average nineteen percent less likely to die during the duration of the study.  However, in the case of running more is not better.  Another study on Danish people found that men who ran between one and two hours a week at a “slow or average pace” extended their longevity by 6.2 years, and women running the same amount and pace extended their longevity by 5.6 years.  Gretchen Reynolds, health journalist and author of “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer” wrote this article on moderation and exercise.

Moderation in exercise, as in all things

Given this information, how’s a girl to plan her workouts?  The same James O’Keefe as cited above recommends “exercising like a hunter-gatherer”, which is consistent in its philosophy with the recent rise in adaptation of the Paleo Diet.   Key principles of exercising like a hunter-gatherer include:

Alternating strenuous workouts with easier ones

Cross-training, i.e. diversifying forms of exercise

Exercising no more than three times a week

Being outdoors makes all the difference

Not exercising when you’re exhausted from previous workouts

Exercising outdoors

O’Keefe’s complete article is available here.

In his story on moderation and exercise for the Kansas City Star, Yael T.  Abouhalkah quotes James O’Keefe:  “Heck, you can get the majority of improvements in cardiovascular risk and longevity with a mere 20 to 30 minutes of walking per day.”  Well, heck, echo those of us who have been dutifully exerting ourselves beyond that in the interest of disease prevention and longevity.  Heck indeed.





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