Monday, June 10, 2013

How exercise can wreak havoc on your body

We endurance athletes and fitness enthusiasts are in a perpetual state of more, more, more. We're constantly testing ourselves and pushing our bodies to the max.

But, what does this actually do to the body?

There has been quite a bit of conversation in the media and scientific literature about the diminishing returns associated with exercise. Not enough is associated with a range of health and chronic disease issues, while too much can be just as harmful to the body. In previous posts I've written about some of the cardiovascular risks associated with prolonged endurance exercise.

In lieu of this month's regular "Monthly Reading Roundup," there was really one major article I wanted to share. Why, because it takes a detailed and comprehensive look at what exactly a hard workout, marathon, or triathlon does to your body's lipids, hormones, enzymes, and major organ function, like your kidneys.

Fitness expert and Ironman triathlete Ben Greenfield undertook his own personal experiment to test the damage that back-to-back triathlons caused on his body. A few weeks ago he did both the long-course (half Ironman distance) Wildflower Triathlon and the Olympic distance in one weekend; one race on Saturday, the other on Sunday. He had comprehensive blood work done a couple days before the races, and then again afterwards.

The results were both fascinating and scary, especially since my training protocol probably isn't too far off from what he does.

By far, the most concerning aspect is the huge rise in cortisol and inflammatory biomarkers. He writes:
"Yes folks, that’s nearly a seven-fold rise in inflammation. In other words, this type of brutal event creates a complete inflammatory firestorm in your body."
And the biggest issue isn't necessarily producing some inflammation following exercise (which is a good thing in terms of recovery and muscle development), but the cumulative effect:
"The problem is that in the absence of proper recovery, round after round of this acute inflammation can eventually become chronic inflammation, and that is when lack of blood flow to tissue, poor mobility, and risk for chronic disease or serious injury set in."
 He sums up by saying:
"You need look no further than my cortisol levels, TSH, insulin, testosterone, growth factor, creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, white blood cell count, and liver enzymes to see this to be true.
And heck – I actually take care of myself pretty darn well. I sleep 7-9 hours, eat a healthy diet, meditate, and avoid excessive training. Just imagine what someone who doesn’t do all those things looks like.
But I’ll be the first to admit that despite the healthy measures I take, I’m brutally beating my body up with the sport I’ve chosen (triathlon), and if you’re reading this, you probably are too (Crossfitters – you don’t get off that easy – I’ve seen hundreds of these blood panels and you have the same issues)."
So if you're an endurance athlete, or you simply exercise frequently and beat up your body, this article really shines a spotlight on the delicate balance between performance and health.

It's a very detailed article, but well worth the time. Click here to read.

No comments:

Post a Comment