Posted on Jan 05, 2022, 7 a.m.
Article courtesy of Dr. Joel Kahn, MD, who is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, one of the world's top cardiologists, best-selling author, lecturer, and a leading expert in plant-based nutrition and holistic care.
In the year 490 BC, the fittest runner in Greece, Phiddipides, ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, to announce a great victory over the Persians. After declaring the news, he dropped dead.
Now, 2,500 years later, do we understand the risks of this kind of ultra-exercise?
Clearly, we know that—generally speaking—moderate activity (such as yoga or walking) is better for you than sitting on the couch eating potato chips. In fact, the data is overwhelming that the more fit you are, the greater your longevity.
Is the medical concept of the 1970s accurate, that finishing a marathon in under four hours is an insurance policy against a heart attack?
Scientific data from around the world indicates that competing in marathons strains the heart for hours to days after the event. Using blood tests designed for diagnosing heart attacks, scientists found that runners frequently have elevated levels of enzymes in their blood after a marathon, and these levels are not present after lesser degrees of exertion. Using MRI scans of the heart before and after a marathon, chambers of the heart dilate and show decreased function and may take up to a week to recover.
Furthermore, in as many as 10% of regular marathon runners, MRI results show late abnormalities, such as fibrosis, or scars in the heart that persist and seem to increase the chance of heart events in the coming years. Heart rhythm abnormalities (particularly atrial fibrillation), may be five times more common among runners who regularly complete marathons. In one study so far, long-distance runners actually had more silent coronary artery disease than healthy people who did not run marathons.
Researchers from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, which tracked runners of different abilities over 27 years, found that the people who participated in the fastest, longest, and most frequent running had a higher mortality rate than the moderate group and were no different from the couch potatoes!
So what's the sweet spot? How much should you run?
Based on this data, researchers concluded that the “sweet spot” of running was a medium pace, no more than three times a week, and less than 2.5 hours total per week.
If you have a burn to do an ultra-endurance event, it's probably best to do it at a young age and train properly. After that, consider cross-training, limiting your pace and distance, and mixing walking and running. It may turn out after all that the turtle was right, slow and steady does win the race every time.
It may turn out after all that the turtle was right, slow and steady does win the race every time.
About the author: At his core, Dr. Joel Kahn believes that plant-based nutrition is the most powerful source of preventative medicine on the planet. Having practiced traditional cardiology since 1983, it was only after his own commitment to a plant-based vegan diet that he truly began to delve into the realm of non-traditional diagnostic tools, prevention tactics, and nutrition-based recovery protocols.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
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