Yes, you can exercise too much — and raise your risk of an early death, study finds

Working out too much can be bad for you, study finds.
Working out too much can be bad for you, study finds. CC0 Public Domain

Let’s face it — at some time or another, we’ve all felt guilty about not going to the gym enough.

But according to a new study from Mayo Clinic Proceedings, those who go to the gym and exercise around 8 hours a week or more should rethink how much they work out, too.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Kaiser Permanente, the study found that those who work out more than three times the recommended amount a week are much more likely to develop heart disease than those who work out a moderate amount.

But there’s only one group primarily affected by over-exercising: White men, who are 86 percent more likely to develop a buildup of plaque in their arteries by the time they become middle-aged if they hit the gym too often, according to the study.

In other words, compared to those who work out a moderate amount, white men who exercise more than seven-and-a-half hours a week are more likely to experience an earlier death from heart disease, the New York Post reported about the study.

To reach their results, researchers analyzed the workout patterns and health of 3,175 black and white men and women aged 18 to 30 over a span of 25 years. The subjects were participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, in which they self-reported their health and exercise in eight follow-up examinations over a quarter of a century.

Subjects were also given heart scans so researchers could look at the state of their arteries.

The findings suggested that white men who work out around 8 hours a week or more have nearly double the chance of suffering from heart disease than those who exercised less than two-and-a-half hours a week.

Dr. Joel Khan, a cardiologist, told CBS that too much exercise could prove harmful by placing stress on arteries.

That’s why Khan suggests relaxing techniques like meditation.

“There is a stress reaction to long distance and long duration exercise — your cortisol is up for a long time,” Khan said. “It may be wise to build in daily stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga — seven, eight hours of sleep.”

Still, while there’s some understanding of why over-exercising can cause health issues, no one is really sure why white men are disportionately affected. According to the study, among all people who worked out over seven-and-a-half-hours a week, there was just a 27 percent increase in developing plaque buildup — much less than the 86 percent chance for white men.

Deepika Laddu, who co-authored the Mayo study, called for more research in the matter to understand what makes white men so much more susceptible to this issue.

“Because the study results show a significantly different level of risk between black and white participants based on long-term exercise trajectories,” she wrote, “the data provide rationale for further investigation, especially by race, into the other biological mechanisms for CAC risk in people with very high levels of physical activity.”