The news of “Biggest Loser” star Bob Harper’s serious heart attack has many wondering how this could happen to a fitness role model. But studies suggest that pushing your body too hard can be dangerous and may have been a factor in Harper's case, a top expert says.
“New research is finding that too much exercise can damage your heart, setting you up for a heart attack or potentially fatal irregular heartbeat," renowned cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall tells Newsmax Health.
Harper, 51, said Tuesday that he suffered a heart attack two weeks ago and is now recuperating.
He was working out at a New York City gym when was stricken, but his life was saved thanks to a doctor who happened to be there, and used CPR with a defibrillator to keep Harper alive, news reports say.
Harper was unconscious for two days, and spent more than a week hospitalized before he was released. He must still wear a heart monitor and hasn’t yet been cleared to return home to Los Angeles, news reports say.
Harper blamed the heart attack on genetics, but a source told US Weekly he worries that the celebrity fitness trainer “pushes himself too hard.”
“People like Harper exert themselves too much and new research shows that this can damage the heart,” says Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“I’ve treated lots of patients who suffer heart attacks or potentially fatal arrhythmias after extreme exertion," he adds.
A recent report published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology explored growing evidence that high levels of intense exercise may promote permanent structural changes in the heart that can, in some people, predispose them to bouts of abnormal heart rhythm.
“Extreme exercise is not natural. It creates inflammation within the muscle of the heart that can cause fibrosis, or thickening and scarring that can damage the heart muscle,” says Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report newsletter.
“It’s also been found that this fibrosis can form within the heart’s electrical system and make people prone to arrhythmias, sudden death, or the need for a pacemaker later in life,” he adds.
Even people like Harper who appear extremely healthy may have the beginning of mild heart disease, which can cause a sudden heart attack under certain conditions, Crandall says.
“Just because a person looks like the picture of health doesn’t mean they are,” says Crandall.
“People can have high blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammatory conditions like diabetes, and not be aware of it because they don’t go to the doctor. They also may have a mild amount of underlying heart disease, and this can also set the stage for a heart attack.”
For most people, too little exercise poses a greater cardiovascular risk than too much. Studies show most Americans don't get the recommended 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. But for some people, overdoing it at the gym can pose risks, as well.
Most heart attacks are caused by a piece of plaque, or fatty deposit, that ruptures, causing a blood clot that stops the flow of blood to the cardiac muscle.
“It used to be thought that only large blockages were the ones to blame, but we now know that smaller ones are more likely to become inflamed, rupture, and cause heart attacks,” he says.
“Your body wasn’t made to be an endurance runner. Your body was made to walk, run occasionally, and run real fast if faced with a threat, like a charging tiger. But now people are doing competitive running and extreme sports, and anything extreme is not good for the body.
“You need to exercise moderately, eat healthy, and reduce your stress. These are the steps to take – not pushing your body to the limit.”
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