Can long distance running become a health hazard? You might think so when you hear of a runner in peak physical condition dropping dead in a marathon.People who work out too hard for too long may be less healthy than sedentary people, and are more likely to die than moderate exercisers. Studies show that moderate exercise was good, but excessive exercise was damaging. For instance, in one German study published in European Heart Journal, researchers compared the hearts of 108 chronic marathoners and sedentary people in a control group. Surprisingly, the runners had more coronary plaque buildup, a risk factor for heart disease.
Anyone who’s finished a marathon or Ironman wouldn’t be shocked to find that the effort caused damage to their body and heart. Traditionally, though, that damage has been thought to be only temporary, subsiding after a few weeks.
But, a newly published report in Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests that the damage endurance athletes do to their hearts actually adds up over time. Repeated extreme exercise or long-distance racing can cause a buildup of scar tissue on the heart, which can lead to the development of patchy myocardial fibrosis in up to 12% of marathon runners. The effects of “chronic exercise” can also include premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and an increase in arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation.
Evidence indicates that regular moderate exercise will help you live longer and even for people doing “extreme” training, the outlook is good. One study of Tour de France riders, who push themselves hard for several hours at a time day after day, found that they lived eight years longer than average.
“Your body is designed to deal with oxidative stress that comes from exercise for the first hour,” says cardiologist James O’Keefe, MD, Director of Preventative Cardiology at the Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, and author of the Heart editorial. “But prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress, which basically burns through the antioxidants in your system and predisposes you to problems.”
The best health outcomes are actually found far below the exercise levels of even casual endurance athletes. A 15-year observational study of 52,000 adults found that the highest degree of survival and health was found from running less than 20 miles per week, in runs of 30 to 45 minutes over three or four days, at about an 8:30 to 10:00 pace. The benefits decrease at amounts greater than that.
“People who exercise moderate amounts do very, very well,” said Dr. Jonathan Myers, an exercise physiologist and cardiopulmonary researcher at Stanford.
Though this is no excuse to trash your running shoes and take to the couch. Exercise may be the most important component of a healthy lifestyle, but like any powerful drug you’ve got to get the dose right.It’s true: exercise–in moderation–can reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, obesity, and premature aging. Regular workouts can also promote muscular health, skeletal health, and boost your mood. Overdo it, though, and many of these health benefits practically vanish.
Train for the long haul with tips from Olympic marathoner Dylan Wykes:
- Seek advice from an experienced coach for your training. A good coach will help you remain injury free and prevent overtraining.
- Don’t build up your mileage too quickly. “Just because you want to run the marathon distance doesn’t mean you need to be covering that distance all the time in training. I do maybe two 42.2 km training sessions in the build up – 12 weeks – to a marathon,” says Wykes.
- Train with friends. “It makes the experience more enjoyable to share it. And it’s safer to be out there with someone else, in case something does go wrong.”
- Establish a goal. “One of the things that has helped me get to the elite level in marathon running is always having goals. They’re great for motivating you in your training – make it a meaningful one! That way you’ll be motivated to do the training.”
- Practice proper pacing. “Even at the elite level it’s easy to go out too fast in a marathon. And really there’s nothing worse than going out too fast and running out of energy towards the end of the marathon.” Practice running this pace in your training on a regular basis.
- Be consistent. “A marathon is not something that can be taken lightly. You need to be consistent in your training to make sure you’re safely and properly prepared to cover the distance,” adds Wykes.
Welling Homeopathy Clinics offer speciality treatment for sport-person for faster recovery, better endurance and building more stamina. Visit one of our clinics for more details and assessment.