Ann Louise Gittleman, MD, MS, CNS
Letâ??s get one thing perfectly clear from the start--this article is not for couch potatoes! Weâ??re talking about Type A personalities. You know the type. Their mantra is "Whatâ??s worth doing is worth overdoing.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear from the start–this article is not for couch potatoes! We’re talking about Type A personalities.
You know the type. Their mantra is "What’s worth doing is worth overdoing."
They’re the over-achievers–the super men and super women who juggle family, career and still try to make time for themselves, even if it is 4am in the morning.
As we all know, regular exercise increases endurance, muscle tone, strength, flexibility and disease resistance. But, when it comes to exercise for the Type A’s among us–less may be more.
Alarmingly, there is increasing evidence that strenuous exercise can be hazardous to your health–even deadly.
For women, too much exercise (more than two hours of strenuous, non-stop activity on a daily basis) can cause a halt in estrogen production–as in menopause–that can actually contribute to calcium loss in a very thin woman. Even when exercise is decreased and estrogen levels become normalized, a 20-percent bone loss remains. If this cycle is repeated and the diet contains lots of mineral robbers, such as coffee, sugar and soda, premature bone thinning will set in before menopause begins. Thus it is important that balance be the keynote in exercise and diet during our 20s and 30s–before we reach our 40s and 50s, when the bone protecting benefits of estrogen and progesterone begin to decline.
Over-exercise can also lead to hormonal imbalance. Increased loss of body fat, brought on by strenuous exercise, first causes progesterone levels to drop. Progesterone deficiency may ensue and this leads to bone loss. The secondary consequence of increased fat loss is the depletion of estrogen stores, resulting in menstrual irregularities, including cessation of menstrual periods. This situation is often evident in trained athletes such as those Type A body builders, runners and ballet dancers who can turn their periods on and off with a one-to-two kilogram (three-to-five pound) weight gain or loss.
Women who were involved in athletics in their teens and 20s and missed at least one-third of their regular menstrual periods might be wise to check out their current bone density. In older women, this exercise-induced hormonal imbalance may be confused with menopause.
Calling All Athletes
The strenuous exercise, which is a hallmark habit of the typical Type A personality, has other detrimental and often deadly side effects: high-intensity training produces an overabundance of those nasty free radicals that have been found to be the cause of more than 50 diseases.
Free radicals are unbalanced molecules in the body that cause tissue damage. They can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to premature aging, heart attack, cataracts and a variety of different cancers. The connections between over-exercise, free radicals and disease were first popularized by noted physician Dr Kenneth Cooper, the father of the worldwide aerobics movement and president and founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas.
In his groundbreaking book The Antioxidant Revolution, Cooper recounts his concern over the early onset of cancer and untimely deaths of a slew of world class and other highly trained athletes. Jim Fixx, the highly revered marathon runner, is probably the most recognizable case in point.
Fixx suddenly dropped dead after a 6.5 kilometre (four mile) run in Vermont. An autopsy later revealed that his arteries were almost completely blocked. And this from a man who had run 59,570 km (37,000 miles) in the nearly 20 years preceding his death and who was running 97 km (60 miles) per week right up to the day he died!
The missing piece to this Type A puzzle? An overproduction of exercise-induced free radicals, which triggers coronary artery disease–among other fatal diseases.
The good news is that Dr Cooper’s research has demonstrated that low-to-moderate-intensity exercise is just as beneficial as the high-intensity exercise, without the wear and tear on the system.
The Type A personality should consider eliminating running or jogging entirely.
Yes, banish these activities from your regimen, because you are likely to overdo them if you even do them moderately. That endorphin high that you get so quickly from a good run can be addictive and therefore lead to excessive exercise once again. Choose more balanced, gentle and slower activities such as brisk walking, hiking, biking, rowing, swimming, stretching or strength training. All of these can be done daily for 30 to 45 minutes, with the exception of strength training.
Strength training (like lifting weights and working with specially designed resistance equipment) needs to be done only twice a week for 20 to 45 minutes for maximum results. This is particularly good for the Type A individual, who should practice this technique with the SuperSlow protocol. SuperSlow is a technique developed by fitness expert Ken Hutchins in which the weight is lifted in about 10 seconds and lowered in half that amount of time.
To combat even mild to moderate exercise-induced free radicals, supplement with the antioxidant or free-radical-quenching vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. As an antioxidant foundation, depending upon your sex, age, and activity level, consider 500 to 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C, 200 to 1,200 international units of natural vitamin E and anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 IU of beta carotene.
Trigger fat burning, enhance lean muscle tissue and protect your immune system with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), available in your health food store. Double blind trials in Norway have shown that 1,000 mg of CLA taken before meals for a minimum of 90 days can decrease body fat percentage by 20 percent while protecting muscle tone. As a potential anti-carcinogen and hardening of the arteries inhibitor, CLA is recognized as a "previously unrecognized nutrient" by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where CLA was discovered.
Fitness for Type A personalities is within their reach. The key words are moderation and balance.