September 6, 2018

Goldilocks and Exercise

By Darrin Marchant


It’s probably wise to be moderate in all things. We should be like Goldilocks. She avoided the extremes one way or the other in order to find that sweet spot where things were just right.

What about things that seem good for us. Can we have too much love in our lives? Can we have too much money? Too much money may be debatable. What about exercise? If it is so good for us, can we ever do too much? If 30 minutes of running is good, wouldn’t 60 minutes be better and 90 minutes even better than that? Heck, we should all be running marathons! Not so, according to some recent research.

In a report published last year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers from Denmark reported that people who push their bodies too hard may essentially undo the benefits of exercise. Those who ran at a fast pace more than four hours a week for more than three days a week had about the same risk of dying during the study’s 12-year follow-up as those who were sedentary and hardly exercised at all. The link held even after the researchers accounted for potentially confounding factors: age, sex, a history of heart disease or diabetes, or a history of smoking and drinking alcohol.

What the researchers found was that too little running and too much running are linked to higher rates of death. The most intense runners ended up with a risk of dying that was similar to that of those who opted to stay on the couch. They concluded that somewhere in between is the Goldilocks amount that’s just right to maintain heart health, burn off excess calories, and keep blood sugar levels under control. According to the results, that sweet spot is closer to the less side of the curve than the more side.

Bringing up this research is not meant to discourage those on the high-intensity end of the exercise spectrum. Rather, the message is meant to encourage the rest of us, the majority of us, who don’t exercise as much as we should. We don’t have to run till we drop, bicycle across the country, or spend hours in the gym to benefit from exercise just as much as those who do. So get moving! Find that Goldilocks amount of exercise that is not too much or too little but is just right.

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