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Could exercise be bad for you?

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By Denise Foley
From
Completely You


It's the news that couch potatoes have been waiting for: A new study has found that in about 10 percent of people who exercise, at least one standard measure of heart health (levels of insulin, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as blood pressure) got worse. And in 7 percent who exercise, at least two of those measures got worse. 

That's right -- exercise is actually bad for them.

But don't hang up your sneakers just yet. Dr. William Kraus, a cardiologist who is  the paper's co-author and a member of the committee behind the government's national exercise recommendation that Americans get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, points out that an equal number of people in the six exercises studies the researchers reviewed got better – much better.

In fact, "10 percent of people were super-responders, and did way better than predicted," says Kraus, who is also a professor of medicine at Duke University. So the take-home message of the study isn't that exercise is dangerous to your health.

"If people use this as an excuse [not to exercise], they're just looking for excuses," says Kraus. And that's a very bad idea for most of us. Read the full study here.


Should you exercise or not?

The truth is, it's impossible to know in advance where you fall on the spectrum when it comes to benefiting from exercise, any more than you can predict whether a statin drug will lower your cholesterol.

Comparing exercise to a drug is a good analogy, says Kraus. "A certain percentage of people respond unfavorably to drugs. In some people, statins raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol). In a small percentage of people, they lower them. This is why we have a panoply of treatment options."

But what this means, says Kraus, is that doctors aren't going to be able to assure patients that if they exercise more they're going to reduce their risks of heart disease -- at least, not until they see how an individual patient reacts. The link between physical activity and heart health comes mainly from studies of large groups of people.

"What this paper had uncovered is the individual variation," says Kraus.

In other words, you're going to have to become a study of one. What if exercise doesn't work for you?

"If your HDL drops, maybe exercise isn't the answer for you," says Kraus. "For some people, changing their body composition [by losing weight] helps and for others, there are drugs, like niacin, which is very good for raising HDL."

And who knows -- maybe you'll be one of the super-responders whose HDL shoots into the stratosphere after a few weeks of daily walks. In any case, the numbers don't lie: Only 10 percent of people can't seem to exercise their way to better health. That means the other 90 percent have no excuse.

 

 

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