Celebrity Workout Obsession

Thanks to several high-profile extreme exercisers, we have recently been provided with plenty of proof that Olympian-style workout regimes, far from being beneficial, can actually take their toll on health and appearance. Madonna’s arms, all sinew and veins, and Elle Macpherson’s saggy knees are both side effects of excessive exercising.  Brad Pitt Workout Then we had the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, collapsing while out jogging. Many blamed the rigorous exercise schedule and severe diet that his wife, Carla Bruni, has encouraged him to follow. With the help of Bruni’s personal trainer, Speedy Sarko, 54, has dropped two trouser sizes in the process, but he has also dropped to the floor. For some extremists, working out just to keep the flab at bay is no longer enough, and a growing number of people are adopting the “more is better” celebrity approach. Many workouts rival those of elite athletes in terms of frequency, intensity and duration, following the theory that greater effort equals a better return in terms of anti-ageing, disease-fighting and fat-minimising benefits. But do daily three-hour workouts really help to hold back the years? Experts warn they won’t, and claim that extreme exercise can put your health at risk. “Some celebrities are taking their workouts to dangerous levels,” says Dan Corbett, a personal trainer at Gymbox. “They work out to the point at which their body-fat levels become so low, there are signs of muscle wastage and fatigue.” Dr Jason Gill, of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, says that unless you are a professional athlete, you should expend a maximum of 3,000 calories a week through exercise — that’s the workout equivalent of walking, running or cycling three to five miles a day. Beyond that, he says, there are no proven benefits to health. “At best, you might reach a plateau in your fitness level if you overdo things,” he says. “If you do too much exercise and decrease your calorie intake, the consequences can be more dire.” Certainly, experts are becoming more aware of the dangers linked to overstrenuous workouts. Sarkozy’s collapse was reportedly due to “a cardiac incident”, and he is not alone. In June, a study in the American Journal of Cardiology suggested that too much vigorous exercise can increase the risk of heart problems. Dr Anthony Aizer, a cardiologist at New York University, analysed the workout habits of almost 17,000 seemingly healthy men. He found that those who exercised hard enough to break into a significant sweat five to seven days a week increased the odds of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder, by 20% compared with those who did no vigorous exercise. Runners, especially those aged 50 and under, are most at risk of the problem, which can lead to fainting, heart attacks and even strokes. The potential problems don’t end there. Kirsten Lord, of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says that increasing high-impact activities too quickly can leave people prone to overuse injuries such as shin splints. “Other problems, such as plantar fasciitis [a pain in the arch of the foot] and stress fractures to the feet, are also common,” she says. “Over a number of years, your knees can also take a hammering, causing arthritis, particularly if your technique is not good.” Excessive pounding against hard gym surfaces can also destroy tiny blood vessels in the feet, raising the risk of anaemia. Gill agrees. Women who reduce their body fat too drastically often suffer from poor circulation and develop lanugo, a fine layer of hair, as the body tries to keep warm. They are also at risk of exercise amenorrhoea, when periods are disrupted, a warning sign that oestrogen levels have plummeted. “This can temporarily affect fertility,” says Gill, “and, since oestrogen is vital for bones, a woman may start losing bone mass, putting her at risk of osteoporosis.” Increasing your exercise programme in the hope that it will keep you looking younger can also backfire. “A woman’s skin becomes thinner and less elastic with age as collagen and oestrogen levels drop,” says Phil Learney, a trainer at the Third Space. “Reduce body fat too much and the ‘clingfilm’ effect is even more apparent. Dehydration from intense activity can also have a rapid ageing effect on the skin.” No one particular exercise is to blame, so this can happen to any part of the body — hence Madonna’s arms and Elle’s knees. Dr Peter Rowan, a consultant psychiatrist for Cygnet Health Care, who specialises in eating and exercise disorders, says Brad Pitt Workout the emotional effects of extreme exercise can be as devastating as the physical. “It can be mentally draining and soul-destroying to put yourself through a workout programme that is too demanding. Once you begin to devote your life to improving your appearance and health in that way, it is a slippery slope to becoming obsessed.” So is it time to take your foot off the pedal at the gym? Corbett says celebrities have contributed to confusion about what exercise we need. An hour’s workout a day is enough for most people, and that should constitute as wide a variety of activities as possible. Crucially, not all exercise needs to be high impact; try low intensity, such as t’ai chi and yoga, so you get a mix of aerobic and resistance exercise to maximise fat loss and muscle strength. “Rest between tough workouts to allow your muscles time to recover,” Corbett says, “and don’t run away with the idea that you need to be doing triathlons or four hours of yoga a day to stay in shape. A moderate amount of medium-intensity work is fine.” HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? 1 The bare minimum The UK government recommendations suggest 30 minutes of moderate activity (including strenuous housework or gardening) at least five days a week (or 150 minutes a week) to stay healthy. However, this won’t help you lose weight or get noticeably fitter. “You need to do 60 to 90 minutes a day of these activities to start losing weight,” says Dr Emma Ross, an exercise scientist at the University of Brighton. 2 Walk this way Taking 10,000 steps a day will benefit your health, but you need to tot up at least 16,000 steps a day of walking, including faster bursts, Brad Pitt Workout And Diet plan to lose weight. 3 Up the ante Follow targets set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which are widely accepted by experts, by exercising three to five times a week for 20-60 minutes at 55%-80% of your body’s maximum capacity, calculated according to your heart rate. “This should be mostly aerobic activity, with a few strength and resistance sessions,” Ross says. 4 Short on time? The ACSM says 30 minutes of higher-intensity exercise (that’s 80% of your maximum aerobic capacity, at a level where you puff and sweat) is as good as an hour at a less taxing workload of 60%. BURN THE FAT While it is a misconception that it’s better to work out at a low intensity if you want to lose weight, according to Dr Emma Ross there is nothing wrong with exercising in the “fat-burning zone” setting on gym equipment, which is usually 50%-60% of maximum effort. “Settings on exercise equipment are never going to be accurate for everybody, as we each have our own metabolic rate and maximal heart rate,” she says. “My advice is to work out five days a week doing high-intensity activity [eight out of 10 on an effort scale] and some lower intensity work, such as that on a fat-burning setting [six out of 10 in effort]. STAR TURN "I say to myself, 'You’ve got an hour on this run. Give me 200 (push-ups).' Then, when I’m running, I’ll stop and throw down 30, get up, and just keep moving. And try to do 200 within the run." Matthew McConaughey "I’ve worked out five hours, sometimes more, in a single day, if I’m in training for a film role. And it’s hard — it’s very hard." Jessica Biel

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