Regular exercise keeps body and mind fit and has numerous positive effects on our health. Besides tighter skin and stronger muscles, it strengthens the immune system as well as the cardiovascular system and ensures a general sense of well-being. But how much sport a week is healthy and is too much sport even harmful?
Sport as a natural fountain of youth
Regular endurance sport keeps the body’s cells young. Researchers at Leipzig University Hospital recently announced this result after they examined telomeres, segments of the chromosomes, in more detail. Their length is considered an indication of a person’s biological age. The longer a telomere, the more often the cell is still able to divide. An enzyme in the cell nucleus called telomerase can extend these telomeres. An analysis of blood cells showed that endurance exercise has an effect on our cell ageing by influencing telomerase activity and telomere length. Targeted endurance training can thus have a positive influence on cell ageing and thus on heart health.
Besides its effect as a true fountain of youth, athletes benefit from a strengthened cardiovascular system. Adapted training prevents deposits in the vessels and thus lowers blood pressure: the blood can pass through the vein system more easily. Sport thus has a prophylactic effect against health problems such as arteriosclerosis, heart attacks or the development of blood clots. Depending on the type of sport, physical activity has other benefits such as tighter skin, a healthy body weight or developed body muscles.
The dose makes the poison
The benefit ratio between health and sport is not a straight line. Less is sometimes more, and this is also true for sport. The WHO recommends about 150 minutes of sport per week. Other studies say that sport has a health-promoting effect if the workload is between two and seven hours a week. A higher workload has the opposite effect and damages the body. The risk of heart attacks also increases proportionally with excessive exercise. This is especially true for people with a history of heart attacks. Heart attack patients who jog more than 7 kilometres per day or run 11 kilometres have a 260 percent increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The causes of this are still unclear, but researchers suspect a disturbance in blood circulation or dilatation of the right ventricle as the cause.
Little effort – great benefit
You don’t need to run a marathon to benefit from the positive effects of physical activity. Just around 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day can extend life by an average of three years. The risk of premature death is thus reduced by 14 percent. According to the Taiwanese researchers Jackson Pui Man Wai and Chi Pang Wen, the results apply to all sexes and age groups. People with cardiovascular diseases also benefit from the life-prolonging effect of a low level of physical activity.
Moderate exercise as a precaution for joints
Joint pain often becomes noticeable at an older age. In many cases, the reason is the wear and tear of joint cartilage. Joint wear, known in medicine as arthrosis, is caused by friction between the bones of the joint. A cartilage takes on a shock-absorbing function, but over time cracks develop in the tissue: the cartilage regresses. Without this cartilage, friction causes pain in the joint, even during simple physical activities. A moderate sports programme can delay this process, says Professor Dr. Heller from the Herzogin Elisabeth Hospital in Braunschweig, an expert in artificial knee and hip joints. Rest is the wrong way to go, he says, while exercise promotes good blood circulation, which benefits the joint.
But on the contrary, too much exercise can cause harm. According to a study conducted by Dr Christoph Stehlung from the University of Münster, excessive exercise could increase the risk of osteoarthritis. The type of sport also plays a key role. For starters, Nordic walking or aqua jogging are recommended. Cycling also protects the joints and strengthens the entire back. Regardless of fitness level, proper execution or running technique is the key to healthy joints well into old age.