The lockdown seduced many into newfound health routines, including taking up social media inspired fitness challenges. However, certified fitness trainers say the trend is dangerous. The recent deaths of two popular celebrities allegedly because of vigorously working out has raised a volley of questions and concerns. Fitness trainers say that they are taking huge risks as they are not sure what happens if their clients do not disclose health conditions. Fitness enthusiasts also claim that isolated incidents such as the death of actors Sidharth Shukla and Puneeth Rajkumar are being used to convey misinformation about the fitness industry.

As per a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, extreme exercise may increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) or sudden cardiac death (SCD). However, a history of heart problems or hereditary heart ailments are also contributing factors. Mohan Subramaniam, a gym owner from Chennai has been practicing fitness since he was a teenager. He dissuades people from trying out a random 40-day fitness challenge from the internet. “If a person wants to try a fitness challenge or undergo transformation you need to consult with a physician and find out if you are fit enough to start the programme. If you are a gym goer, then you can start vigorous workout with the help of a fitness professional. Pushing your body into heavy exercises without understanding its limits may result in a heart attack or any other health issue. To undergo a physical transformation, consistency is key,” says Mohan.

There is a risk of heart attack if a person pushes their heart rate beyond a certain level. There is a target heart rate for everyone, he added. So, is there panic in the industry surrounding these incidents? “Yes. There is panic. Everyone was talking about it. People are linking Sudden Cardiac Deaths to gyms and working out. Everyone who does vigorous workouts must know their body. I take a complete medical check-up thrice a year. I have been into athletics, martial arts, powerlifting and now body building. I work out for two hours a day. The tests are done to ensure that I am physically fit and capable of continuing the regime,” he adds.

The big question on people’s minds is, how will they know if they are pushing their limit? Experts say three factors matter: Nutrition, sleep and stress management. Mohan feels, “If my client does not disclose their health concerns, it can be risky not just for himself but for me as well. Sometimes if they are sleep deprived or hung over, I analyse that and stop the session. But they necessarily do not admit it. A client and a coach’s relationship must be transparent, if they are eating unhealthy food or smoking excessively, they should be open about it.”

A study carried out on marathon runners found that even after finishing extreme running events, their blood sample marker contains biomarkers linked with heart-related issues. These markers usually go on their own by themselves, but when a person engages in extreme physical activity, it may lead to remodelling of the heart and can lead to issues like thicker heart walls and scarring of the heart, the report said. Actor Besant Ravi who is also a stunt choreographer has been into fitness for as long as he can remember. “After Puneeth’s demise, I have heard people ask if people can get cardiac arrest after working out, then why work out at all? In my opinion, we are all eating junk food and a good exercise is required to remove toxins from the body and no one can completely understand the mechanism of the body. At the age of 49, I was a contestant on the Survivor show on a Tamil channel. I am part of it only because of my fitness regime. The death of actor Puneeth was a huge shock to us and a warning to take things slow,” says Besant.

Adding a fitness tip for those are starting on a new diet, he says – do it gradually, similarly, if you start exercising, take baby steps and in good moderation. After 2020, there is a sudden spike in interest in fitness. But one needs to find the purpose behind the activity and not simply join because of the hype.

Ravi asks, “Are you going to the gym to build up your body? Reduce your body? Gain Strengthen? Stamina? Toned body? Flexibility? You must have an answer. And that is why the role of a coach or a doctor consultation should not be overlooked. He also advised social media influencers to put out a disclaimer on all health and fitness related content as what works for one person does not work for all. S Sudhakaran an ex-service man and currently runs two fitness centres and gyms in Kerala. A body builder, he has won many titles and a seven-time Mr India medallist and former Mr Karnataka.
Sudhakaran shares, “Someone like actor Puneeth Rajkumar had slim chances of getting a Sudden Cardiac Death. But one must understand that genetics play a major role as well because for a physical fit person such things should not happen. For a layman, my advice is, do not look at YouTube videos and workout. Physical capacity varies from person to person. At my gym, I have people who stay up all night using their phones and come to the gym in the morning, it’s not healthy.” Sudhakaran states he is extra cautious these days and feels trainers should go an extra mile in understanding the health status of each client and then chart a diet and work out programme. “A normal recruit cannot do heavy workouts and one must never dive into a military style training without doctor’s advice.”

Celebrity gym trainer Mani Maran says that fitness centres cannot be blamed for health repercussions. “We do seek out details, but some do not disclose it. With the pandemic going on, I would say it is good to take a break from it on and off, especially post vaccination and whenever you feel like. One must avoid challenging their physical strength and body,” states Mani.