Are there health risks with HIIT?
Andrew Marr, the 53-year-old BBC TV presenter and journalist, made a guest appearance on his own show a few months ago, just four months after a life-threatening stroke, which he attributed to “heavily overworking” and an intensive session on a rowing machine.
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Whilst Andrew was on air, a 23-year-old man collapsed and died at the 16th mile of the Brighton marathon. He is thought to have had a cardiac arrest, although it is too early to know the specifics. His death brings back memories of Claire Squires, 30, who collapsed and died in the final stretch of the London marathon last year. The coroner later ruled that she died of cardiac failure caused by extreme exertion.
Marr said he had followed the advice to “take very intensive exercise in short bursts – and that’s the way to health … I went on a rowing machine and gave it everything I had, and had a strange feeling afterwards – a blinding headache, and flashes of light – served out the family meal, went to bed, then woke up the next morning lying on the floor unable to move”.
The question remains why some people can undertake extreme exercise and be fine and others will suffer unexpected and sometimes fatal heart attacks and strokes. Anyone with a family history of sudden unexplained deaths should seek expert medical advice before taking up extreme exercise. And if you experience chest pain when exercising, it is prudent to seek medical advice and get it checked out.
Unfortunately, there is no way of giving you a cast-iron guarantee that your heart will be fine. However, working out with a well-qualified Personal Trainer can be a solution, where they can tailor the intensity and scale the load of the workout to that particular client. They can go over your familial history, measure your blood pressure and possibly administer a sub maximal test.
Check out these Q and A below which may answer some of those questions on your mind:
Can short bursts of very intensive exercise cause a stroke?
Nikki Hill, deputy director of communication at the Stroke Association, said: “Regular exercise is an important factor in stroke prevention and recovery. We have heard anecdotally that some activities like vigorous exercise can sometimes cause blood vessels to burst. We need more research on the underlying factors that might make that happen. We do know that high blood pressure itself is the single biggest cause of stroke; until more research is done on specific triggers we’d suggest getting your blood pressure checked.” Exercise can help with that.”
Is it possible to suffer strokes without realising it, as Marr says had happened to him in the previous year?
NK: “It is interesting that he mentioned he had two strokes without realising it. That may have been a transient ischaemic attack, also known as a TIA or mini stroke – the symptoms are very similar to stroke but they subside within 24 hours. It is essential people know the signs they might have had a TIA because it is a medical emergency and treatment may prevent a full-blown stroke. The simplest way to know what to look for is the FAST test: Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties.”
Does any exercise increase the risk of a stroke?
Stroke Association Fact Sheet: “Regular exercise can halve your risk of a stroke. Thirty minutes of activity five days a week can reduce your risk. It is just as effective to exercise in small sessions.”
What are the symptoms of stroke?
The Stroke Association says: “The FAST test – Facial weakness – can the person smile, has their mouth or eye drooped? Arm weakness – can the person raise both arms? Speech problems – can the person speak and understand what you say?