I recently came across an article being promoted on various social-media platforms with the headline: “High-Intensity Exercise is Killing You”. The article went on to describe the threat that high-intensity physical training poses to your health. The main danger, apparently, is that vigorous exercise can lead to overuse injuries!
I was mortified by this revelation. Hundreds of thousands of people engage in high-intensity exercise training programs every year thinking that it is going to help them lose weight and improve their cardiovascular fitness when in fact they are exposing themselves to even greater dangers! When are we going to do something about the trend of high-intensity exercise participation? When is the government going to go after those promoting the benefits of physical activity or even worse, sports (which by nature are high-intensity) to our children?
After some deep reflection I became enraged that I have been putting myself at risk for the serious consequences of high-intensity exercise, so I started digging into the research to get some answers. What I’ve discovered should make anyone think twice before engaging in high-intensity physical training.
- High-intensity exercise increases your risk for sudden-death syndrome by up to 56%.
- Fully HALF of all adolescents who engage in high-intensity training programs score below average on standardized tests.
- As physical activity levels declined from the 18th century, there has been a corresponding rise in life-expectancy - so it follows that the more physically active you are the shorter your life-expectancy.
- Primitive, tribal societies who rely on physical activity for subsistence have shorter life-spans than non-exercising counterparts in developed societies.
- Participants in high-intensity exercise are at a far greater risk for DOMS, a serious and potentially disruptive process where muscle and connective tissue damage creates an inflammatory cascade resulting in difficulty sitting, standing, and walking.
- Exercise has been shown to be addictive and can potentially be a gateway into dieting another potentially dangerous practice.
- High-intensity exercise can lead to a loss in body-water. Losses in body-water can lead to dehydration or hyponatremia both of which left untreated can be fatal.
- Exercise can lead to exhaustion, a dangerous state where exercisers may have trouble processing information and completing simple tasks like walking or speaking properly after completing their exercise bout, clearly indicating that exercise is not safe.
- Engaging in high-intensity exercise increases the risk of muscle-strains, ligament tears, and disc injuries over a sedentary lifestyle.
- Most participants in high-intensity exercise are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.
Hopefully as you read through this article, you began to realize that it was intended to be satire. While I’m sure the ‘statistics’ and ‘facts’ which I presented were very compelling, and all true, none of these things outweigh the benefits of exercise to our cardiovascular, metabolic, and psychological health. I based the article on something that my dad shared with me when I was in middle-school called The Dangers of Bread, which is intended to get the readers to think more critically about the things they read or see on television. The original article was written in the early days of the internet before the rise of social media. The lesson of the article however, that you should think carefully about what you read, is even more important today as the internet has made it possible to publish just about anything anyone wants. Furthermore the advent of “click-bait” or other inflammatory articles written specifically to drive traffic to websites, compounds this problem even further as they are often written by subject matter “experts” and cite blustery statistics misinterpreted from scientific literature.
In the end, it is the responsibility of each of us to develop our critical thinking skills and to hone our “intuitive intelligence”. Whenever you’re reading an article, whether peer-reviewed research written by someone in the scientific community or something written to draw social media attention by a “real-world expert”, it is important to approach it with a healthy level of skepticism. Whenever someone makes outrageous claims (like exercise is killing you, or low-carbohydrate diets improve athletic performance, or juice fasts are a great way to detoxify your body…), remember that the burden of proof does not fall on you to disprove their assertions but rather falls on them to validate and support their claims. As I’ve said before on the Training Think Tank blog: read and think for yourself.