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High intensity exercise is a healthy and efficient way to work out. There have been many studies showing the benefits of exercise in preventing and treating chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood sugar and cholesterol, depression, obesity and so much more. However, high intensity exercise must be approached cautiously. The weekend warriors or those who are pumped up about starting an exercise program may not have the basic conditioning to go full steam ahead. Although, there are dangers of high intensity exercise that can be avoided.

high intensity exercise


Rhabdomyolysis, one of the severe dangers of high intensity exercise is from widespread injury to muscles. The breakdown of its fibers can cause kidney failure. Muscles lie inside sheaths and when they are damaged they swell.  This increased swelling causes tension and pressure in the enclosed space and this can result in decreased circulation and more severe damage that kill off more muscle.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms are:

  •         Severe muscle pain
  •         Muscle weakness or inability to move the muscles
  •         Dark brown urine from muscle breakdown

Some people don’t experience any symptoms and may not recognize the dangers of high intensity exercise. Other symptoms include:

  •         Fever
  •         High pulse rate
  •         Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
  •         Confusion or dehydration

These are signs that must be acknowledged and treated as an emergency.  Severe complications are cardiac arrest, kidney failure, muscle and nerve damage and liver damage. When caught early, this is reversible


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Rhabdomyolosis is found in soldiers, firefighters, weekend warriors and has also cropped up in people doing high intensity exercise such as weight lifting, CrossFit, running and P90X. Firstly, the most common high intensity exercise that caused rhabdomyolosis was spinning. I am a big proponent of high intensity exercise with intervals but when pushed too hard, complications arise. Awareness is key.

Precipitating Factors

The risk of getting rhabdomyolysis from high intensity exercise is greater if:

  •         Medications- statins or antipsychotic medications
  •         Alcohol and/or dehydration,
  •         Illegal drugs – heroin, cocaine or amphetamines
  •         Medical Conditions – seizures, heat stroke, diabetic ketoacidosis
  •         Infections- flu, HIV, herpes or bacterial infections
  •         Crush injury, fall, lying on the floor unconscious for a long period, electric shock, lightning or venom from a snake or insect bite.
  •         Trying something new at a high intensity


High Intensity Exercise Risk Prevention

I don’t want to scare you from participating in high intensity exercise since it has more benefits than risk. Even if you are fit and an elite athlete, this can strike you. It is more likely to occur when trying something new. The best plan is prevention.

  •         When you start something new, do it a low intensity, gradually building up to moderate then high intensity.
  •         However, know your limits. Don’t allow an overzealous trainer or competitors push you beyond your limits.
  •         If you experience symptoms, go to the emergency room since early detection and treatment can prevent complications.

High intensity exercise is something I still prescribe. It comes with a warning label. Don’t overdo it. Start slowly and build up gradually and you will reap the rewards. A functional medicine doctor can help you determine which exercise is best for you so that you can live longer and healthier.

Lorraine Maita, MD is an award winning physician, speaker, and author of “Vibrance for Life: How to Live Younger and Healthier.” She can make you slim, sharp, sexy and supercharged. Above all, she is an expert in anti-aging medicine, bioidentical hormone replacement, weight loss, medical nutrition, supplements, and executive health.  Dr. Maita was the medical director for 3 Fortune 100 companies and has a private practice specializing in Functional, Integrative, Personalized and Anti-Aging Medicine in Summit and Basking Ridge, NJ. She educates virtually at She is also an advisory team member for Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life on WOR radio, the #1 talk radio station in the NY Metropolitan area. If you want to get your health back on track, make your appointment today!

Try An Approach Designed With CARE

Optimize Your Weight, Energy, Mood, Sleep, Mental Clarity and Overall, Health

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