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To Exercise or Not

Most people including physicians would argue that exercise is beneficial for almost anyone. However there are some studies showing that exercise can actually cause damage to a patient’s body. In the next few weeks I’d like to investigate the benefits and hazards of exercise. In this post let’s look at whether people should exercise or not.

Let’s start with some studies that show that exercise may actually be harmful. A recent trial looking at participants of a long cross country ski race called “Vasaloppett” (1). The Vasaloppett is a long distance cross-country ski race. It involves racing across 90 km (56 miles) in Sweden and is one of the most grueling races around. This study looked at people who completed this race between 1989 and 1998. Of the 52,755 cross-country skiers who completed the event during that time 919 developed some form of arrhythmia (1.74%). The most common was atrial fibrillation. In fact there are multiple examples of exercise associated with cardiac problems. Autopsies of 1435 athletes who suffered sudden death showed cardiac abnormalities in 97% of cases(2). Although there are no definitive studies yet most physician agree that there is an increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias in elite athletes.

With the possible damage that exercise and especially intense aerobic exercise can cause us why do most physicians recommend that we exercise. There are many benefits to exercise. Not only is exercise beneficial to the body. New studies show that intense and long term exercise delayed the deterioration of patients with Alzheimer’s dementia (3). Another study published online in the British Medical Journal suggested through a meta-analysis of different trials that exercise is more beneficial then some drugs. Although this is not the best level of evidence at least there is some suggestion that exercise is more beneficial then drugs such as anti-platelet and other blood thinners at preventing death due to stroke (4). Another study suggested that regular physical recreational activity reduces the risk of developing hypertension (5). Further more even though elite athletes may have a slightly increased risk of developing heart difficulties most studies show that these same elite athletes live longer and are healthier then the average population (6).

Taking all of this into account I believe that exercise is beneficial for almost everyone. Exercise can help people prevent chronic ailments; it can help people with chronic ailments live longer and healthier; and possibly most importantly it can help people in general live longer.


1. Andersen K, Farahmand B, Ahlbom A, et al., Risk of arrhythmias in 52 755 long-distance cross-country skiers: a cohort study. European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht188.

2. Link MS, Mark Estes NA 3rd. Sudden cardiac death in athletes. Prog Cardiovasc Dis2008;51:44-57

3. Pitkala K, Pysti M, Laakhonen ML, et al., Effects of the Finnish Alzhemier diesease excercise trial (FINALEX), JAMA Intern Med 2013: doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.359.

4. Naci H Loannidis JPA. Comparative effectiveness of excercise and drug interventions of mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. BMJ 2013;347:f5577 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f5577

5. Huai P, Xun H, Reilly KH et al., Physical activity and risk of hypertension: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Hypertension 2013, doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.113.01965.

6. Marijon E, Tafflet, Antero-Jacquemin J, et al. Mortality of French participants in the Tour de France (1947-2012). Eur Heart J 2013; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/eht.347

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