Is running bad for your heart?

The Wall Street Journal recently (Nov. 28th 2012) wrote an article discussing the impact of running on athletes. Two recent studies about to be published this months in the British journal Heart seem to indicate that running can have a negative impact on you.

You are all aware that I am an avid runner, I don’t run as much as other but depending where I am in my training I run 50-70 miles a week. So obviously this study really interested me.

First I want to recap in short bullet points what the article had to say:

  • deaths during races are limited to 1/100 000 in marathons, so not very high it seems.
  • runners in general seem to enjoy longevity  benefits over nonrunners
  • a recent study observing 52,600 people for three decades observed that runners overall had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners but among runner those who ran more than 20-25 miles/week lost that mortality advantage
  • another study found that runners faster than 8 miles/hour had not mortality benefits.

Recommendations made by the contributors to the article

  • run slower than 8 miles/hour
  • run less than 20 miles/week
  • race less/push less hard after the age of 50

Not everyone agrees with the article and both sides seem to point to the other saying that they are biased. I did not have the original studies at hand when writing this blog but at the same time a couple of things should be pointed out:

  1. the 19% lower lower death rate among the running cohort could be due to a natural selection process, meaning people with cardiac issues not starting to run to begin with or runners being more health conscious and living healthier lifestyles in general
  2. the diminished benefits in runners who run more than 20-25 miles/week could be caused for several reasons:
    1. extensive and intensive running can lead to a higher mortality rate. Cardiologists seem to agree with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (potential cause of stroke).
    2. other factors like lifestyle and nutrition have a huge impact on heart health. Increased running intensity leads is almost a self administered stress test and could cause pathological heart symptoms
  3. critics of the newer research point out that it only shows an association to running, that running may not be the cause of death and that the numbers researched on that level were to small to be statistically significant.

My Conclusion

Anything we do in excess bears risks. I definitely have a higher chance of getting run over by car while running than a couch potato because I do it a lot. A body that does not get enough recovery, an athlete that trains through colds and sickness imposes health risks on his body that very well could lead to sudden death. At the same time, excessive sitting in front of the TV, two hours or more per day can also lead to  lack of mental stimulation, wide hips and big belly and lack of social life outside of Facebook.


My  Recommendation

  1. Be aware that pushing any sport to an extreme bears risks for your health as well as social life
  2. If you are sick, take time off and recuperate. No training that you during the time of being sick has significant importance considering the lifetime of being engaged in sports.
  3. Have recuperation weeks planned into your training and take some time off after races
  4. Treat your body as much as you use it. Work it hard, treat it with good food, massage, rest, sleep.
  5. Sleep. Sleep is not wasted time unlike many believe. Quite the opposite it is necessary to learn, get stronger, faster and recover. If you don’t sleep you are wasting your training. At the moment an exact number of hours cannot be pinned down but I would schedule in 8.5 hours because we all know you won’t make it into bed before there is only an 8 hour window.
  6. Monitor your health. If you are older than 35 years of age make sure you have a regular physical and know what your blood test results are.
  7. Live a healthy lifestyle: Your life consists of more than just TV or Running, etc. Make sure you spend time with your family & friends. Have a hobby outside of sports. Live a multi-faceted life.
  8. Eat well. This is a hot topic because food is like religion and you cannot touch it without making someone mad. To me eating healthy foods means:
    1. Eating minimally processed food only
    2. Eating a ton of veggies (5-10 cups a day)
    3. Staying away from grains and legumes (different people, different opinion, but it works really well for me)
    4. Eating as much fruit as I want to but a minimum of (4-6 whole fruits a day)
    5. Eating nuts as snacks (gotta love my almonds)
    6. Consuming grass-fed meat, poultry as often as I can afford
    7. Have fish or fish-oil on a regular basis
    8. Minimize junk food (I admit I cheat sometimes with high quality chocolate but most of the time I make even that myself)

Basically it is all about balance in your life. Make sure that what you do makes you truly happy. If you feel like you “have to run” because of some weird reason then maybe it is time to take a break. Please remember you don’t “have to do” anything. It is your choice.

Stay healthy and fit and feel free to ask me questions about getting you in shape

Michael Anders

Head Trainer Shape Up Fitness & Wellness Consulting

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