The “J-Shaped” Curve: How Much Exercise Is Too Much?


by Nils Osmar. October 17, 2022. Medical Disclaimer

How much exercise is “enough? And how much is too much?

Exercise is essential to heart health and longevity. However, more intense exercise isn’t always better from a longevity perspective.

A recent study posits that while moderate amounts of exercise are beneficial, extreme amounts can be as problematic as not exercising at all. See study: Training for Longevity: The Reverse J-Curve for Exercise

From the study (emphases are mind)

Exercise positively affects virtually every aspect of the body and brain… In fact, maintaining a high level of CV fitness (aerobic and muscular fitness) improves prognosis independently of other therapies, and plausible arguments can be made that exercise/fitness is the most potent medical therapy we have in the battle against CVD.

If one’s goal is to decrease the risk of CV events, and improve life expectancy, a regular regimen of moderate activity is adequate. Very high doses of strenuous exercise may attenuate some of the benefits bestowed by less extreme efforts.

The best forms of exercise for improving mental health and longevity appear to be social sports such as tennis, golf, badminton, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and group exercise, which not only improves fitness, but also promote interpersonal bonding and tend to reduce stress…

The maximal benefit for CVD risk reduction occurs at much lower, safer and more moderate exercise doses.

Are the authors recommending that we reduce our exercise levels? Not necessarily. They write:

The current body of data is not strong enough to recommend that recreational athletes reduce their exercise dose, especially if this is something that improves their quality of life, or is needed to optimize performance in competitions, as the risks appear to be modest and somewhat uncertain yet.

My thoughts:

  • It’s challenging to find the “right” amount of exercise. Even the term “high dose” may be misleading. When defining high doses, the authors turn the discussion to the longevity of professional athletes, who often work out several hours a day. And many studies other support the benefits of resistance training, for example, to support both health and longevity.
  • To me, the lesson from this study is not to give up things like HIIT or resistance training, but rather, to make sure they’re not crowding out low key socially oriented exercise such as gardening or taking walks with friends. (Tennis, soccer, basketball and volleyball, which are mentioned in the study, are all social, and, worth considering, they give people a good workout while also forcing us to be mentally alert.)
  • In other words, we shouldn’t let high intensity exercising which we do alone, replace lower intensity social exercise. We most likely need a balance of both.

This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice.

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