Are We Sacrificing Our Joints for Our Heart’s Sake?

In this day and age few among us could claim to be in the dark about the value of exercise to our wellbeing and longevity. The fitness industry mushroomed during the latter half of the last century; today our marketplace is flooded with watches and other gimmicks to help us track measure and maintain our fitness levels.

Our obsession with our hearts and minds has largely fueled this industry.

Take cardiovascular disease and depression for example. There is no question exercise prevents the former and alleviates the latter. Male dominated activities such as football and running are shown to improve cardiovascular function. While a wide range of physical activity has been shown to improve depression.

But there’s a flipside to attaining cardiovascular fitness as the musculoskeletal consequences of early onset exercise become apparent with age. For example, the fracture rate from football in boys aged between 15 and 19 years is currently the highest recorded for any group.

Even at older ages, and in both sexes, vigorous and repetitive physical activity can result in an accumulation of micro trauma destined to wear down even the most sturdy of joints and tendons. Varying our practices may help. Runners who engage in other sports at the same time are at less risk of long term mobility problems.

But rather than wearing out our joints, tendons, muscles and bone in the prevention of heart attacks, we should be watching them like we watch our finances and save a little for later – there is no question about the return on investment.

Assessing appropriate fitness endpoints for cancers and chronic diseases in older age is as much a challenge to clinicians as it to the fitness business.

Evidence is now accruing to support the argument that fitness ensures optimal outcomes in chronic diseases and cancers of older age. And this makes working joints and muscles, not just hearts, even more critical as we grow older. It also means that measurements must take these complexities into account.

Assessing appropriate fitness endpoints for cancers and chronic diseases in older age is as much a challenge to clinicians as it to the fitness business – no watch or wrist band is currently capable of telling a woman how she is progressing in her quest to protect her bones from osteoporosis.

Just as our workforce needs healthy, mature professionals to balance safety and innovation, clinicians need to take a leading role in managing the attainment and maintenance of a fit body – not just to the general public but also to the regulators and legislators who influence the direction that the fitness industry is taking our communities.

There is nothing stopping the medical profession from acting. Indeed, the mechanics of change are already in motion in the UK. In 2013 The Public Health Interventions Advisory Committee of NICE updated its recommendations for exercise largely directing its advice to the clinical setting. So, isn’t the logical next step to tackle the broader agenda of exercise, fitness and health?

One thought on “Are We Sacrificing Our Joints for Our Heart’s Sake?

  1. The flipside is that inappropriate or excessive exercise carries a small cardiovascular risk. Fitness guru Jim Fixx famously jogged himself to death with a heart attack.


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