Women

You’d think someone fit enough to run multiple marathons, complete long-distance cycle races or Ironman triathlons would be the epitome of health. Yet emerging evidence suggests the opposite may be true. For while there’s no dispute moderate exercise boosts fitness and heart health, some scientists believe endurance athletes risk permanent damage to their hearts.

Writing in the journal Heart, US cardiologists Dr. James O’Keefe and Carl Lavie claim the heart is only designed for ‘short bursts’ of intense activity. Regularly asking it to overexert itself for hours at a time, they say, can cause problems. These include overstretching of the heart’s chambers, thickening of the chamber walls and changes to electrical signaling, which could cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

For while there’s no dispute moderate exercise boosts fitness and heart health, some scientists believe endurance athletes risk permanent damage to their hearts.

For while there’s no dispute moderate exercise boosts fitness and heart health, some scientists believe endurance athletes risk permanent damage to their hearts.

Controversially, the scientists claim that, ‘Running too fast, too far and for too many years may speed one’s progress towards the finish line of life.’ Instead, vigorous exercise should be limited to between 30 and 50 minutes a day and, ‘If you really want to do a marathon or full-distance triathlon, it may be best to do just one or a few, then proceed to safer and healthier exercise patterns.’ In one study, published in the European Heart Journal, MRI scans were given to 40 people training for endurance events -a fortnight before, just after the event and a week later. Researchers found most of the athletes had stretched heart muscles the right ventricle, responsible for pumping blood around the body, was larger and weaker than usual – directly after the event. Most made a full recovery after a week but five showed long-term injury -scarring of the heart tissue and impaired right ventricle function. It echoes earlier research, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which looked at members of the 100 Marathon Club and found over half of those examined had some scarring of the heart muscle.

Could it be that humans really aren’t meant to push themselves to such limits? ‘These studies have looked only at small groups doing very high mileage,’ says Professor John Brewer, Head of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Bedfordshire (who is due to run his 15th marathon at London this year). ‘For the vast majority of people, running provides far greater protection from heart and other problems than leading a sedentary lifestyle. The heart is the body’s most important muscle and it can deteriorate if it’s not used.’

Four times World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington, author of A Life Without Limits (Constable, $13.5), can identify with the studies, however. ‘I don’t have any statistics but, anecdotally, I’m surprised at how many of my fellow pro Ironman triathletes have heart problems, particularly arrhythmia,’ she admits.

I’m surprised at how many of my fellow pro Ironman triathletes have heart problems, particularly arrhythmia,’ she admits.

I’m surprised at how many of my fellow pro Ironman triathletes have heart problems, particularly arrhythmia,’ she admits.

But as Professor Brewer points out, ‘Most recreational athletes only do one or two endurance events, then use the training to consolidate and improve their performance at shorter, more manageable distances.’

‘The studies highlight extreme cases,’ agrees celeb runner Nell MacAndrew. ‘I wouldn’t want to run a marathon every day! But I’m not at all worried about those I’ve done. I’m healthier now at 39 than when I was 20. My love of training and competing adds to my overall wellbeing. I’m pregnant now so I’m powerwalking, swimming and doing weights, not running. But I’ll definitely do more marathons in future.’

Neither is Wellington worried enough about the potential risks to stop training. ‘Ironman is my sport and I love it,’ she says. ‘The body’s not a machine to be bent to our will; we need to look after it and use our intuition. But there has to be an element of risk in sport, otherwise we wouldn’t push ourselves. Endurance activities undoubtedly cause the body stress, but it doesn’t need to be detrimental in the long term if you look after yourself.’

So this research shouldn’t put people off? ‘No,’ insists the athlete. ‘At the level most people tackle marathons and triathlons, the benefits far outweigh the risks. And they’re not just physical: sport has great social benefits, it boosts mental health, it helps charities… it’s not always just about the measurable fitness gains.’

At the level most people tackle marathons and triathlons, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

At the level most people tackle marathons and triathlons, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Professor Brewer agrees. ‘We’ll all lead healthier, happier lives for doing what we want. The most important factor in choosing a form of exercise is whether or not you enjoy it.’

If you want to keep fit, you don’t need to do a marathon you can stay healthy on much, much less. But if you love running and want to log 26.2 miles, go ahead but train sensibly. Training for a marathon is a commitment, and finishing one is an achievement and a confidence boost and that’s pretty good for you.

How To Train Safely For An Endurance Event

Follow this advice from athlete Chrissie Wellington

If you’re new to endurance training, get the all-clear to exercise from your GP and always report any unusual symptoms.

Get a training plan that’s tailored to you, your lifestyle and ability (visit runbritain.com to find a local club who can put you in touch with a coach).

The benefits of your hard work are only reaped in recovery rest, recovery days and sleep are an often overlooked but vital part of your training program.

get the all-clear to exercise from your GP -and always report any unusual symptoms.

get the all-clear to exercise from your GP -and always report any unusual symptoms.

Get advice on nutrition and hydration -and follow it.

If you can afford it, have weekly sports massage and regular check-ups with a physiotherapist (check out local colleges as students training in sports massage often need bodies to practice on, for free).

Don’t neglect strength and conditioning -make it part of your weekly program.

Don’t do all your training on roads -run on grass, trail and track, too.

Mix it up -try new sports in your downtime between events, or change your goals to tackle different distances or terrains.

Top search
Women
- 6 Ways To Have a Natural Miscarriage
- Foods That Cause Miscarriage
- Losing Weight In A Week With Honey
- Can You Eat Crab Meat During Pregnancy?
- Grape Is Pregnant Women’s Friend
- 4 Kinds Of Fruit That Can Increase Risk Of Miscarriage
- Some Drinks Pregnant Women Should Say No With
- Signs Proving You Have Boy Pregnancy
- Why Do Pregnant Women Have Stomachache When Eating?
- Top Foods That Pregnant Women Should Be Careful Of
- 6 Kinds Of Vegetable That Increase Risk Of Miscarriage
Other
Women
- Sore Now…Strong Later
- Your Body On A Binge…
- Hitting Your Sweet Spot
- You Can Eat Carbs!
- 8 Things Pregnant Women Should Avoid For Children To Have Good Health
- Allergy In Pregnancy
- How To Deal With Dangerous Situations In Giving Birth
- 5 Things That Women Should Do Every Day
- How To Lose Weight While Sitting Much
- Secrets To Lose Weight Easily
 
women
Top keywords
women
Miscarriage Pregnant Pregnancy Pregnancy day by day Pregnancy week by week Losing Weight Stress Placenta Makeup Collection
Women
Top 5
women
- Cinnamon: A natural treatment for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
- 5 Tips for Safe Exercise During Pregnancy
- Four Natural Ways Alternative Medicine Can Help You Get Pregnant (part 2)
- Four Natural Ways Alternative Medicine Can Help You Get Pregnant (part 1)
- Is Your Mental Health Causing You to Gain Weight (part 2) - Bipolar Disorder Associated with Weight Gain