How Risky is Exercise if Over 50?

A recent Wall Street Journal had a very informative story by Ron Winslow about men over 50 having a heart attack while exercising.

Also James B. Lee Jr., the 62-year-old vice chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., who regularly exercised, became short of breath while exercising and went to a hospital, where he died, his company has said.

exercise-physiology1This is tragic news and particularly nerve wracking for us men over 50 who work out.

The Journal story makes some excellent points that I want to pass on to you.

I am over 70 years old, retired and I exercise daily. As I have said repeatedly, the mantra of this blog is eat less; move more; live longer. I don’t want to think for a minute that my exercise routine is somehow threatening my life. To the contrary, I am certain that it is extending my days.

“Exercise is not a vaccine against heart disease,” says Michael Joyner, an exercise physiologist at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn. While not specifically addressing Mr. Lee’s case, Dr. Joyner noted that risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol are increasingly common as people age.

This is solid information. You need to know that you are in good health if you are exercising.

“There is unequivocal evidence that regular physical activity and exercise have multiple benefits that far outweigh any risk of the exercise itself,” says Jonathan A. Drezner, director of the Center for Sports Cardiology at the University of Washington, in Seattle, the Journal story continued.

Dr. Drezner pointed out that the risk is greater for people who don’t exercise regularly. “The weekend warrior who goes out to crush it once a week” or less often is much more vulnerable than the person who gets three to five cardio workouts a week.

It is important to keep this in perspective. If you are already exercising, you are on the right track. If not, see a doctor before jumping off the deep end.

Another doctor quoted in the story points out that fitness is a gradual goal.

Dr. Sumeet Chugh, associate director of the Heart Institute at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, co-authored “Sudden Cardiac Death in the Older Athlete” in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. He lists the following markers for high risk: : a 10-year risk of coronary artery disease greater than 5%; very high cholesterol; diabetes; a strong family history of sudden cardiac death or early heart disease; or a body-mass index, a measure of obesity based on height and weight, over 28.

“A sedentary person who checks any of these boxes should get a thorough cardiac evaluation before participating in sports or embarking on an exercise program, ” he says.

He also stresses how important a gradual warm up and cool down are as components of a rigorous workout.

I have written a number of posts on seniors exercising and all of them stress that seniors do not need to work for maximum exertion rather they want a range of motion. Dr Anthony Goodman described senior weight work as half the weight and twice with repetitions in order to contribute to lubrication of the joints and tendons as well as exercising the muscles.

This is echoed in the Journal story, “Fitness experts also point to studies showing the benefits of physical activity come from frequency, not intensity. People get more than 50% of the payoff of rigorous exercise just by walking, says Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic.”

Dr. Chugh had another study in Oregon examining 1,247 cardiac arrests “among people ages 35 to 65 during an 11-year period ending in 2013. Researchers found that just 5%—63 cases—were associated with sports activity, including 17 arrests during jogging, seven during gym exercise and others during such activities as basketball, cycling, golf, volleyball and soccer.”

The analysis said the incidence of these sports related cardiac arrests was 21.7 per million residents vs 555 per million for arrests not associated with sports.

Winslow concluded the article with the following quote, “You can’t really use the risk of sudden death as an excuse not to exercise,” says Dr. Chugh.

I say, Amen to that.

My takeaway from the story is that is exactly the good doctor’s conclusion.

To read further on items I have published on seniors exercising, check out:

Why Seniors Need to Exercise – NIH

How Does Exercise Help Senior Citizens

Is Physical Exercise Better than Brain Exercise for Seniors?

Exercise, not just Sudoku for Seniors

The Four Best Exercises for Seniors

How Exercise Benefits the Brain – Chicago Tribune

And, last, but not least, my Page Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits).



Filed under aging, Exercise, Risky exercise, Wall Street Journal

6 responses to “How Risky is Exercise if Over 50?

  1. The Wall Street Journal did a great job with this article as there are so many other factors which are important markers to look at before making judgements about exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Exercise is good for anyone, although for medically fragile folk or people that fall in those categories above, medically supervised exercise may be appropriate. I’m working with a 97 year old woman right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing this post! 😉


  4. Deborah Ann Wimberley

    My father, at 55, had a heart situation that left him with a pacemaker. He had been in passable shape, but had started teasing his friends that he could eat any amount of anything and not gain weight.

    He was wrong. He gained exponentially and then he couldn’t lose it.

    It was a nightmare.

    Liked by 1 person

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