Shortening Your Life By Too Much Exercise?

I was hanging out with Tony and I mentioned that I figured I was going to die young from a heart attack. Tony agreed so quickly that it kind of scared me. “You think I’m right?” He says “yeah. There’s a cost to all the adaptation that you are forcing your body to go through.” We riff off of that for a while before the conversation returns to something I don’t recall because I was too busy thinking about my rapidly approaching death.

He’s right, there is a cost to adapting to the physical stress I put my body under. Any environmental change forces the body to maintain homeostasis or adjust and create a new stasis, both of these responses require energy. Anytime your body liberates energy from food (digestion and absorption) and anytime it utilizes energy for biological functions, a chemical reaction occurs that gives off pollution in the form of free radicals and other chemicals. We can conclude that anything a person does to increase the amount of energy they use will increase the amount of pollution that is released within the body.

The inverse is also true, anything you do that lowers the amount of energy you utilize will decrease the amount of pollution that is released. The significance of this comes to light when we consider the claims of health practitioners that participating in frequent exercise will increase your health and will increase life expectancy. If their claim is true, exercise must do something to the body that causes it to eventually use less energy as a consequence to having performed the exercise than it uses directly to perform the exercise. Most people experience this benefit as a lowering of the resting heart rate.

Finite Beat Life – I’m not sure about the science behind the belief that the hearts life span is measured in beats vs. age – once it beats that predetermined number of times, it stops working. If this is the case, you should try to lower the amount of work that the heart does. You can either do less work or, you can make the heart stronger so it does more work per beat.

For example, I have a resting heart rate of about 48 beats per minute (BPM). The average resting heart rate is about 72 BPM. At rest, my heart beats 24 fewer times than an average persons – every 2 minutes my heart is saving 1 minute worth of work. My math may be a little off, but that is a saving of about 33%. At rest, I am using 33% less energy because I have trained my heart to work more efficiently. To me, that’s a huge saving of beats; given that most of my day is spent in a resting type state.

It takes a lot of effort to make your heart stronger, but all in all, the amount of beats that are required to lower you resting heart rate to 48 BPM is probably equal to the amount of beats the you save because your heart rate is lower. Lets call it a wash. You are no better off from the finite beat perspective but you do have better overall health due to your more active state. There is a net gain and you are healthier.

However, it requires a lot less to maintain the fitness required to have a resting heart rate of 48 BPM – 3 X 30 minute working segments of working the heart at 150 BPM per week. That works out to be 13500 heart beats (150 X 90). 90 minutes of rest for an average heart = 6480 beats.

When we calculate the daily heart beats for a trained heart and an average heart we get 78300 for trained and 103680 for the untrained. That is a difference of 25380 beats per day. From a finite beats perspective, you are WAY better off having a trained heart because even with the work required to maintain its health, your heart will work about 25% less. This is all good provided your finite beat life is long.

Shortening your life by working out too much – Am I shortening my life by teaching 5 cycling classes and taking two 3 hour bike rides a week? Yes, absolutely. Sure, I’m aging at 2/3rds the rate when I’m at rest, but since I’m exercising 8.5 hours more than I need to maintain a lower rate, I’m created way more internal pollution and excess heart beats than I would if I just worked out at the maintenance level.