Great News for the Exercise Enthusiast – There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Exercise

A couple doing side bends on a basketball court

The benefits of regular exercise are well recognized. It not only enhances physical fitness but likewise has mental health benefits as well. Likewise, regular activity decreases the risk of heart disease. For these reasons, health organizations routinely recommend minimum levels of exercise for all adults. This ranges in intensity with both moderate and vigorous physical activity encouraged. But some level of vigorous physical activity is encouraged, the precise amount has not been clearly defined. In fact, many have suggested that excessive vigorous physical activity might even be detrimental to wellness.

Like Goldilocks and the three bears, some have suggested that a happy medium exists when it comes to exercise. On one end, many individuals are clearly too inactive and fail to participate in enough physical activity. In fact, between 15 and 30 percent of all adult Americans are considered inactive. These people clearly do not receive the benefits of regular exercise. However, some also believe extreme exercise enthusiasts can overdo it as well. Those who invest hours upon hours in vigorous physical activity may strain their heart and vascular systems too much. Based on new research findings, however, this particular point of view looks to be poorly supported.

New Cardiovascular Research on Exercise

Recently, researchers at the University of Oxford completed a five-year study involving over 90,000 men and women. The researchers used fitness trackers and accelerometers to measure the amounts of moderate and vigorous physical activity in the group. The results were quite impressive. Of the top 25 percent performing vigorous physical activity, there was a 54-63 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease. And for those in the top quarter who performed both moderate and vigorous physical activity, the risk reduction was between 48-57 percent. Thus, for advancing levels of intense activity, the benefits of regular exercise continued to rise.

A dude doing situps in a gym with others
There are a multitude of benefits of regular exercise, and according to recent studies, no limit on how much exercise you can do!

To realize the benefits of regular exercise the study suggested, it’s necessary to distinguish moderate from vigorous physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a “talk test” can be used to determine just how intense your exercise might be. For moderate exercise, you will still be able to talk and have a conversation, but you’ll be unable to sing. For vigorous physical activity, you’ll only be able to say a few words at a time without pausing. Understanding this, moderate exercise tends to involve things like brisk walking, casual bicycling, and doubles tennis. Intense physical activity, on the other hand, includes things like running, swimming, and more advanced cycling.

The Benefits of Regular Exercise on Cardiovascular Health

Scientists and clinicians have repeatedly shown the benefits of regular exercise on cardiovascular health. Numerous mechanisms are at play that links moderate and vigorous physical activity to better heart function. For one, intense exercise improves our ability to absorb and use oxygen over time. At the same time, these types of exercises also promote new blood vessel growth while reducing the amount of plaque in our arteries. Other benefits of regular exercise also include reduced weight and improved insulin response. These benefits indirectly improve heart health by preventing obesity and diabetes, both of which increase heart disease risks. (For more on the foods that can help with heart health, check out this Project Bold Life story.) Thus, the fact that some exercise reduced cardiovascular risk in the Oxford study was certainly not surprising.

The more intriguing aspect of the study was that increasing amounts of the most intense exercise led to declining risk. At some point, the researchers suspected the benefits of regular exercise at high levels to plateau or possibly even decline. But this was not the case. The more vigorous physical activity someone did, the lower their cardiovascular risk became. This has important implications on what health organizations may recommend in the future. Currently, the CDC encourages adults to get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. But these figures may actually increase based on the study.

Tracking Your Own Level of Exercise Intensity

While the talk test is a great way to get a rough idea of your level of exercise, more precise options exist. The researchers in the study utilized fitness tracker data, which are readily available today. These are electronic devices that often come in the form of a wrist band or watch, or they may even come as a clip-on or ring. The Motiv Ring is one of the newer fitness trackers that goes on your finger. Other popular models include those by Fitbit, Garmin, and Polar. And depending on the level of sophistication you want, prices can range from $25 up to $400.

The variations in price can usually be attributed to the functions these fitness trackers provide. For example, those that measure your actual heart rate tend to cost a little more. Some of these are likewise able to calculate how efficiently you breathe and use oxygen. And some even provide information about the quality of your sleep. In general, however, if you’re interested in your amount of vigorous physical activity, those with a heart rate monitor is a must. Based on your age, weight, and gender, you can then quickly determine your exercise level. This can help you better pursue the intensity of exercise that you want.

Realizing the Benefits of Regular Exercise

While the results of the research are impressive, the findings do not imply less intense physical activity isn’t beneficial. In fact, other research has confirmed that brief high-intensity workouts can also provide health advantages. Thus, the benefits of regular exercise can be enjoyed even when we are pressed for time. However, if you want to increase your level of moderate and vigorous physical activity, there’s no need to be concerned. More appears to be better, at least when it comes to our cardiovascular health.


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