Take it easy! Too much strenuous exercise may shorten your lifespan, study suggests

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TOKYO — Maintaining a regular exercise schedule is usually among the first suggestions offered whenever anyone is looking to get in better shape and feel healthier. But, at what point does too much exercise become unhealthy? Perhaps it depends on how hard you push yourself. A surprising new study out of Japan concludes that daily strenuous activity might actually shorten, not prolong, one’s lifespan.

Researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology analyzed a group of Kabuki actors for this study. Kabuki is a classical Japanese performance art characterized by quick and constant movement. The study’s authors were shocked to see that Kabuki actors had shorter lifespans compared to people with more sedentary lifestyles.

So, while people who have jobs and occupations that require constant movement and activity may assume they’re keeping themselves healthy, that may not be the case after all.

When exercise could be a bad thing

To come to their conclusions, the authors compared lifespans among four distinct groups of Japanese performers. In all, 699 male art performers born after the year 1901 were examined. Some were still alive, while others had passed away, but birth and death records were publicly available for all performers. Before performing their analysis, the research team assumed that Kabuki actors would generally live longer than the other three categories of artists (Sado, Rakugo and Nagauta). Those other art forms mostly consist of performing tea ceremonies, recounting stories, or playing music, so none of those artists were nearly as active as Kabuki practitioners.

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However, their analysis revealed the exact opposite. Kabuki actors have shorter lifespans than all three other types of artists.

So why are Kabuki actors are living shorter lives? Researchers theorize that all of the constant, excessive endurance training necessary for performances effectively neutralizes the usual benefits of exercise. Another possible factor is the widespread use of lead-containing white powder as face make-up during Kabuki performances prior to 1934. Actors who used that face paint often back then may have done serious harm to their health.

In the future, the authors would like to see further research on this matter conducted that includes females. More work is also necessary in order to determine the optimal amount of exercise for one’s health.

The study is published in Palgrave Communications.

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