Family life

Is running bad for your heart?

A recent US study rings the alarm about ‘extreme’ running. Jennifer doesn’t buy it.

By Jennifer Pinarski
Is running bad for your heart?

Photo by Nordea Riga Marathon via Flickr.

First things first: I’m not a cardiologist or medical researcher. The closest I got to running and medical research was volunteering to be a test subject during the 2005 Winnipeg Marathon where I provided a urine and blood sample after running 13.1 miles. But I drank a few tequila sunrises at the finish line with my friends so my samples probably went straight into a bio-waste container. 
So you don't have to agree with me when I say I have a hard time believing running could be lethal.
The most recent medical study to get my running skirt in a bunch is from June's Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Dr. James O'Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute of St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. published research suggesting that long-term extreme exercise can slowly lead to serious heart damage. Heart enzymes, such as troponin, spike and can cause scarring as well as enlarged ventricles (which in turn may lead to an irregular heartbeat and sudden cardiac arrest).
Not only are runners at risk, according to researchers, but triathletes and cyclists who take part in repeated training sessions are too. The definition of extreme exercise in the study is vigorous exercise for more than 60 minutes. If you’ve got a 10K, sprint triathlon or charity bike ride on your radar, you exercise more than 60 minutes at a time.
My friends all snarked at the study. I was cheeky and told my friends they needed to learn CPR for the playdates I went to. My ultra running pals pointed out that when they are competing in a long distance event, their activity level is not vigorous, and they are paying close attention to their food and fluid levels. Other athletes more upset about the study went straight to the source — leaving their views on news websites. My favourite comments were left on Scientific American, pointing out that 10 percent of the study participants showed heart damage, while 90 percent showed no damage and their hearts were actually in better health than the control group.

One point that all athletes agreed on was use of ultra runner Micah True as the poster child for ‘you’re going to die while ultra running’. True, who passed away last month, while on a trail run near his home in Mexico, was found to have had a scarred, enlarged heart. News writers were quick to say that his running caused the scarring, when in reality he had an undiagnosed heart condition and running likely extended his life.
So where does this leave the recreational runner, cyclist and triathlete? If you’re like me, you are physically fit, watch your diet, visit your doctor for regular checkups and it’s OK to read online medical studies with a wee bit of skepticism and run on. 
Do you consider 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day to be extreme?

Photo by Nordea Riga Marathon via Flickr
This article was originally published on Jun 05, 2012

Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners

I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.