June 11, 2012

Maxing Out: Too Much Running, Vitamin D, and Calcium?

Is it possible to get too much Vitamin D? Will you live longer if you don't run too fast or too far? And should you stop taking those calcium supplements your doctor has been hounding you about for decades?

Yep, as is often the case, new studies are coming out just to f--ck with your head suggesting that conventional wisdom about exercise and nutrition may be more complicated than previously thought.

But Wait... Why Are We So Surprised And Annoyed?

Or maybe it's just me who hates the notion of upper limits. Anyway, before going into any specifics, let me take a step back and remind myself:

Just because SOME is good, does not mean MORE is better.

Duh, right? Most things in life do not work that way.


Well perhaps there are a few exceptions...

Really, is that all you got?

Yet when it comes to health and fitness, there is so much nagging out there that it's easy to internalize the message: Whatever you're doing, it's not enough.

Are you getting enough nutrients in your food for optimum health? IMPOSSIBLE!  Are you exerting yourself strenuously enough, long enough, and frequently enough to ensure longevity?  OF COURSE NOT, YOU NEED TO DO MORE!

And yet, strangely enough, health and fitness turns out to be very much like any other human endeavor. Moderation tends to be more optimal than extremes.

Well I dunno, looks totally fun to me.

But sure enough, it turns out that human bodies seem to have a sweet spot for most things, and there is such thing as too much of anything.  And yes, even "good" things like physical exertion and nutrients. Hell, there are probably even downsides to too much tranquility and bliss! Though I personally wouldn't mind being a guinea pig in a perpetual bliss experiment.  Scientists? Hey Scientists? Hello?

Anyway, on to a few brief specifics and links.  Other folks, as usual, have way better coverage and analysis than I'm gonna bother with.

Too Much Running?

According a press release about excessive endurance training and a study on running and mortality risk  (all discussed much more sensibly by Alex Hutchinson at Runner's World) : While some running is great for you--and it's way more exercise than the average person gets--more is not necessarily better.

Some key points:

  • The majority of health benefits from exercise "accrue at a relatively modest level...beyond 30-60 minutes per day, you reach a point of diminishing returns."
  • Running distances of up to 20 miles/week, speeds of 6-7 miles/hour, and frequencies of 2-5 days/week was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to non-runners.
  • But higher mileage, faster paces, and more frequent running were not associated with better survival. In fact, there was a U-shaped mortality curve for distance, speed, and frequency.  In plain English:  more of the extreme superhuman kickass runners croaked over a 15 year period than regular runners.
  • Extreme endurance exercise (i.e. marathons, iron man triathlons, extreme bicycle races) "may cause structural changes to the heart and large arteries, leading to myocardial injury."
  • Endurance sports participants may be up to five times more likely to suffer from atrial fibrillation, and extreme training may be linked to "coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening."

Be warned, exercise junkies!

Excessive Vitamin D?

You wouldn't think it was possible given all the hype, but sure enough, extremely high blood levels of Vitamin D are unhealthy and lead to higher mortality. (Note: this was also cribbed from Alex, 'cause hell, I was already there at his blog and I'm lazy like that).

What are optimal levels?

The lowest mortality risk was at 50-60 nmol/liter.

(And what's an nmol? Simple! It's a scientific measure of the precise amount of, um, nmoleness in every liter. You're welcome).

Here's a cool graph from the press release, let's hope the researchers don't chase me down and sue me:

Health Dangers of Calcium Supplementation

I think there was an earlier study that said "watch out!" too, but I kinda ignored it because I figured there was a good chance the study would get contradicted again in a few weeks. But alas, it seems that while you can get calcium safely from food, calcium supplementation is linked to heart problems.

Here's the deal: a moderate intake of calcium (820 milligrams per day) was associated with a 30 % lower risk of a heart attack than a low intake. And it didn't help to consume more than 1,100 milligrams a day.

But here's the scary part: People who got their calcium almost exclusively from supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who took no supplements.


So how do you vegans and lactose intolerant folks handle this? Personally, I've switched to goat milk, as I'm finding as I get older I seem to be a bit intolerant of the ol' cow juice. So I can still easily get calcium from my diet and have decided to ditch the supplements.

Now I know theoretically there are non-animal calcium sources, but many of these turn out to be "fortified" foods. And isn't "fortification" just a butcher, muscle-bound euphemism for "supplementation?"

Or, well, I guess it helps if you just LOVE blackstrap molasses and collard greens!

And on a totally unrelated note:

What About the Freakin' Booty Camp Winner?

There isn't one yet!  So if you missed the Booty Camp Giveaway, there's still a couple of days to enter or increase your chances to win.   The set has 11 DVD's for a lot of different workouts, plus extra bonus thingies.

All you have to do is skim past a bunch of self-serving life coaching propaganda and leave a comment on the post.  (And there are additional ways to boost your chances).  And who knows, maybe you'll feel brainwashed  inspired to take advantage of one of the (cheap!) coaching slots still open and totally get your life together this summer and live happily ever after. Or whatever!  Anyway, the giveaway winner will be chosen approximately Wednesday morning.  Good Luck!

So what do you guys think, are you "moderate" in all things or do you sometimes go with the  "more must be better" philosophy?

Photos credits:  Vitamin D Poster; Hirschhorn Exhibit; Chocolate; Exhausted Runner.


  1. I think it's easy to get caught up and begin to think that if a little is good then more would be better, especially as one is trying to lose weight for example. For me personally, my body immediately lets me know when I've done too much - in the form of injury usually. So even if I try to barrel past my common sense, I always seem to get reigned in. The interesting thing about this is that what is too much for me, may not in fact be to much for someone else. IMHO that's why all the information that is out there feel so conflicting.

  2. Meh, no doubt the study will be contradicted in a few weeks, as usual... But their approach seems a bit "one size fits all" anyway, no? Doesn't the point where exercise becomes "extreme" just depend on the individual? Even pushing myself to (what feels like) within an inch of certain death, the actual amount of exercise I'm doing would count as a lazy Sunday morning for some people I know... While presumably being way too much for others!

    It seems to me that challenging yourself to find out what you can do is a good thing, but obsessively pushing yourself to go further, faster, harder, beyond your natural limits, probably isn't. It also seems to me that most of us already realise that, and those who don't aren't going to listen anyway!

  3. This makes sense when you think about how so many professional athletes have short life expectancies and other such problems due to the intense and excessive nature of their physical regimens.

  4. My parents always sang the moderation tune so I grew up buying into it. I do think it is right and correct. Too much of anything is bad.
    Except for chocolate ice cream, of course, but that's just common sense.

  5. Except for the most basic and logical, just about every health belief (not to mention child rearing practices) gets challenged and changed every so often.

    Like Leah said, my own mother's words were "everything in moderation." I think they're wise words. And I prefer them to Frank's "Mutate or die." :]

  6. I can certainly understand the "I need to do more!" way of thinking. Last year, I gained around 25 pounds due to a job change (completely sedentary, from always on the go), family stress (aka, CoffeeShopGirl sat on the couch and ate pizza and ice cream for a few months), and a new relationship (motivation to be less fat, lol). Now that I've finally adjusted to all the changes, I thought to myself: "OMG, How did this happen? I need to lose all this extra weight ASAP!"

    Of course, starting to work out after you've put on some pounds HURTS, i.e. muscle aches, joints, etc. Plus, I wanted to go back to my old (and tasty) friends, pizza and ice cream. One day the boyfriend said something that really stuck with me: "You didn't gain this weight in a day; you can't expect to lose it in a day."

    While that's a great statement, we are still in a culture that has conditioned us to expect and demand instant results. Nonetheless, I am on Week 3 of swimming 4 days a week (25 laps in 45 minutes), and making a conscious effort to reduce my dinner portions. Some days I eat more, some days less, but I try to eat more during the day rather than in the evenings.

    Alas, I keep chanting to myself: Patience and Consistency. So, to answer the question of moderation, I think you need to listen to your body. it will let you know when it's ready to go and ready to stop.

  7. For some reason I thought the calcium thing applied more to men. I stopped taking calcium years ago.

    I have a feeling that if you get your vit D from sunlight, you can't get too high a level. (This does not relate to too much sun exposure obviously.)

    The levels of exercise that they studied are pretty high. You may know that your hero Mark Sisson, was a very high level triathlete originally. That extreme degree that he and some of his contemporaries did made some of them champions and broke down others. That is why Mark feels the way he does about cardio, for instance.

  8. The perfect is the enemy of the good enough in many things, including seeking the "perfect" levels of exercise and supplementation.

    That's why going for the effective and the good enough is better.

    Thanks for helping me clarify that in my mind.

  9. Moderation in everything! And thanks for the excuse to stick to my moderate exercise approach. Any more and I might croak! Also: I am totally sending this to my exercise-addicted multiple iron man competitor death obsessed ex-boss. I WILL live longer than him and his I'm better than you attitude. :)

  10. Glad to hear you all are so sensible about not overdoing things!

    And good point, Shadowduck about "too much" being a very individual question.

    For me, if I were trying to run 7 miles an hour for an hour five days a week... that would be quite a stretch for me, even if it's "normal" for stronger folks.

    And Leah, I'm with you on the chocolate ice cream!

  11. Bliss is currently extremely difficult to measure; I'm afraid we'll have to wait to join any studies, Crabby.

    I started taking calcium supplements years ago when I was allergic to almost everything with a lot of calcium ( including kale! which I would only have eaten if paid ounce for ounce in gold) and kept taking them when I discovered a source of fresh goat's milk, and then got unallergic to cow's milk cheeses, chanting "Bone density! Bone density!" to myself whenever I choked on the giant pills. Then the manufacturer changed the shape of the pills, making them even more chokeable, and I cut back to at most 330 mg per day, realizing that most weeks I eat more than a pound of sharp cheese.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. (Not to mention the ice cream. We won't mention how much ice cream I eat a week.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  13. I am not sure I even want to read studies any more! ;-) I am lactose intolerant so I do take a supplement so now I should not & being menopausal - get brittle bones! ;-) With my weights, at least I combat that to the best possible!

    So, is there an upper limit on how many cookies I can eat! :-)

  14. I competitively swam and dove thru college. My husband played tennis and baseball (Go Gater B'ball in college World Series BTW). I think we both benefited from those years (health wise). Mine was probably a better choice for wear and tear on the body. Even though I spent many years heavy, his joints are in far worse shape than mine. He was a catcher so his knees are shot at 50.

    Supplements. I don't take any. I just eat a variety and if that is not enough - piss on it.

    I refuse to believe one glass of wine is my limit as a woman. Vile sexist notion if there ever was one.

    You CAN eat too much broccoli, greens, asparagus and grapes. Trust me.

    I also firmly believe that if you are doing something you do not like that is going to be the thing that shortens your life - which - in some cases may feel like a blessing.

    OK my two cents - worth approx. a hay-penny.

  15. I always SMILLLLLLLLLLLLLE (on the inside where it counts) when I see those running studies :-)

  16. I always SMILLLLLLLLLLLLLE (on the inside where it counts) when I see those running studies :-)

  17. I am still jogging every morning, but I didn't run too much. last time I was read the yahoo news that every morning exercise is bad to our health and it is prefer to exercise in the afternoon until evening.

  18. I try to be moderate. Right now I have unlimited yoga for three months, so I am go a bit around the "bend"...hahaha! I slay me!

    I also try to listen to my body and what it tells me about what I put into it and what I put it through. So far, so great!

  19. Now I can stop worrying about my inconsistancy in taking my calcium supplements. I hate taking pills (gagging problem, I know TMI.) I can also feel better about not running. But I think I may need to be the winner of those work out tapes!

  20. Just today I read that many runners take pain medications preemptively - is that healthy?

    In my opinion, it isn't. If you can only go through your running by actively suppressing the warning signals your body gives you, you are clearly doing damage to you body. And that is the exact opposite of what it all should be about.

    As for vitamin D, C and all those other vitamin supplements promising heaven on earth: the only reason to take them is if you have been diagnosed with a deficiency. And when was the last time you had scurvy?

  21. I think I'm just too lazy toobe extreme. In general though, I think more is better when it comes to chocolate. :)

  22. Progressive gains and consistency with much respect to your physical capacities will get you way way further than faster, pressured, with injuries will. I’ve personally learned this with about a 20 year experience of weight training. I now can call it a healthy life style. (Injury free and wow looking, LOL so I think)

  23. Funny, I just heard a radio infomercial touting Vitamin D as the latest *must have* supplement. Apparently we're all deficient even with fortified milk and our skin making it, so this doctor has made a magic D-pill that will solve all our health problems. How did humankind ever survive three million years without it?

  24. It is funny. Thank you for sharing.

  25. They seem to change their minds on a weekly basis about whats good for us and what id gonna lead us to a horrible death.

  26. Great post. Always wondered about taking supplements. It's seems like everything that is "good" for you in the world, scientist are trying to prove it bad.

  27. Funny, I just heard a radio infomercial touting Vitamin D as the latest *must have* supplement. Apparently we're all deficient even with fortified milk and our skin making it, so this doctor has made a magic D-pill that will solve all our health problems. How did humankind ever survive three million years without it?


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