Thursday, February 3, 2011
Too Much of a Good Thing?
When Fiona Savage started running 37 years ago, she was told it would be bad for her joints and knees. It didn’t stop her from accumulating some serious mileage on her well-toned legs. She’s run 27 marathons (including a first place finish in the Arctic) and two 92.5 kilometre runs. She credits her late father, Oliver, who personified healthy living long before it was in vogue, and her beautiful 13-year-old daughter Morag for inspiration. Fiona’s goal is to live to 100 and run a marathon the same year to celebrate. What a woman! So far, her knees and joints are doing fine. And she says the mental benefits have also been huge.
But surprisingly, new Sunnybrook research questions the effect of strenuous exercise on cognition in later life and the risk of dementia. According to the new study, moderate over strenuous exercise appears to be best for clear thinking as we age. Sunnybrook’s lead researcher Dr. Mary Tierney and her team specifically examined the association in women because strenuous activity is known to affect sex hormone levels. And over a lifetime, reductions in estrogen levels have been found to negatively affect cognition in older age.
The big unanswered question is how much is too much, something only more study in a larger group of women can address. That said, maintaining regular physical activity is probably the best magic pill you can give yourself when it comes to good health. The Alzheimer Society advocates moderate physical activity to promote brain health, and I’ve yet to meet a doctor who doesn’t recommend the same. But kicking that up to extreme levels, may result in different outcomes.
Pardon the pun, but all this information has been on my mind a lot in the past week. Every second morning, I wake up at 4:45am, slip on my running gear and head out the door for a 40-minute run. Just me, the paper delivery person and the stray raccoon scurrying out of sight. For 39 minutes I love it. When I’ve hit 40 minutes, I’m done. I’ve always felt inadequate for not being able to push it harder. At the very least, this new research is making me feel a little less guilty.
For more information on the study, click here.