Monday, March 22, 2010

Long Distance Running - bad for the heart

Just a quick heads up on a couple of articles I saw over the weekend indicating that long distance running is bad for the cardiovascular system, despite apparently positive impacts on the normal metrics for cariovascular health.

Kurt notes and points to one on Medpage

Open Water Chicago points to a separate report on the same research in abcNews

Researchers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute and Foundation found that these runners faced a greater risk of accumulating plaque in their coronary arteries – despite having less body fat, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and lower heart rates.

An abcnews comment amuses me:

No one is sure exactly what the plaque findings mean.
Well, we can guess.


Chris Robbins said...

Another interesting (alarming?) study was reported on last week entitled,"Study: Marathoners Face Greater Risk of Artery Problems"

One quote: "The researchers evaluated blood pressure and artery elasticity in 49 healthy men who regularly trained to run marathons and 46 control subjects who weren't endurance athletes. The marathoners had significantly higher systolic blood pressure (the top number in a reading) than the non-marathoners, about 11 points higher on average, when measured at the brachial artery in the upper arm. Their mean blood pressure was also about 8 points higher on average than the control subjects.

The researchers concluded that the study participants' exercise regimens were related to arterial stiffness, suggesting that more intense exercise may lead to increased stiffness of the large arteries."

Here's the link:

Anonymous said...

I'm an avid runner so naturally I have hard time accepting these results.
The runners in that study were considered as "elite". I don't have details but that meant that they had competed in at least one marathon a year since 1985. That's a lot of kilometers. A lot more than average runner does. These are often people with type A personality and sport drink belt on their waist. Competitive runners train long times near and above the anaerobic threshold. That's very stressful for the body.

Still, endurance athletes are considered as the longest living athletes ( ).

Matt Moschetti said...

Not surprised. I am a runner too, but really can't buy into the idea that humans were born to run. We are tremendously ill-evolved for distance running compared to other animals. Our nearest evolutionary-brothers are not runners. Sure, we can run, and we can sprint, but we are evolved walkers with busts of exertion.

Unknown said...

Humans *are* evolved distance runners, this is pretty much settled (over sufficiently long distance in warm conditions, no animal can outrun humans).

This study is interesting, but what we need to see is a study linking marathon running to higher mortality. "We can guess" is not science, it's superstition.

Scott W said...

What little knowledge I have of "outrunning" animals in warm climates means the humans keep trotting (barefoot) while the animals sprint, stop to gasp, etc. until exhausted. Not exactly the type of long-distance speed running we picture for marathons...more of an enhanced walk, and one that was only done intermittently if other hunting strategies did not work.

If there is interest in this topic, you really need to read the review/analysis done by Dr. Harris at PaNu. He did look at this current study recently, but also previously looked at a study that didn't just measure plaque in runner, but assessed actual past unnoticed heart attacks (heart muscle damage). Not a pretty picture for those who train long distances aggressively.

Scott W

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

I disagree that the study shows that running is bad for the heart. The study authors suggested that the elite athletes studied may have chronic inflammation that influenced the development of atherosclerosis. They also suggested that diet wasn't a factor- based on total and LDL cholesterol though (not particle size or Apo B/ApoA ratios). So another nail in the coffin of the lipid hypothesis!

I do think it should make all of us a little more cautious about how we push our bodies, but some of us will push past sensible limits no matter what we're doing. The study was about elite athletes- they can be pretty excessive in how they push themselves.


John Sifferman said...

The marathon race is inherently competitive, so much that the top athletes have turned it into a 26.2 mile sprint with M&M's and Gatorade available at designated locations along the route. That kind of performance requires health-diminishing strategies that come with a lot of baggage. It's a classic situation of putting performance over health, so I don't think it's a fair indicator of long distance running overall, but of marathoners, in particular (and only elite marathoners at that).

There's a big difference between the marathon and ultra-marathon communities philosophy towards running, and I imagine you would see similar differences in their overall health - including heart health. Speculation, of course. And it depends on a ton of factors that reach far beyond just training habits.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a study done comparing arterial stiffness of marathoners on the typical high-carb diet and marathoners who follow a paleo/primal diet. Results of the Minneapolis Heart Institute study do not factor in the ridiculous amounts of carb-loading, Gu-ingesting and gatorade-drinking that these marathoners partake in regularly. I'd venture to say that the study's results are more closely linked to diet than exercise habits.

As an elite ultrarunner who has recently gone primal, this one touches close to home.

CrossFit Equipment said...

Interesting articles...

For the last couple of years I've been against long distance running - mainly as a result of posts from Art De Vany, but I recently watched a seminar by Christopher McDougall - author of Born to Run and he said that long distance running is natural for humans to do i.e. hunting animals by chasing them for hours/miles and killing them when they are weakend by exhaustion/overheating is something humans have been doing for thousands of years.... so the human body has evolved to cope with long distances.

For an example of this type of hunt, check the URL below which shows a "Persistence Hunt" of a Male Kudu, by tribesman of the San on the Kalahari Desert of Africa.

See URL below for Christopher McDougall video:

It's difficult to know what to believe - convincing points from both sides i.e. Art De Vany and Christopher McDougall, etc...

Anonymous said...

all excessive activity is bad for our hearts, my doctor said it a long time ago.

Melinda Robinson

knee anatomy facts

A said...

If you read Born to Run closely, you'll see that the Tarahumara follow a lot of Art de Vany's ideas. They are complete athletes, playing games that incorporate a lot of intensity into exercise, especially in the form of play (games). I think de Vany is wrong about his categorical disavowal of long distance running. It's based on outdated anthropological/archaeological evidence. However, he is probably right that an exercise regime with 90% low-intensity cardio that many marathoners have is not ideal.

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michael voigt said...

I run regularly and have for 10 years. I am 5'9" and 143 pounds and will mostly have a resting heart rate of 40-55bpm. I am also vegan and have excellent dietary practices. Running comes easy and I can carry a 8min pace without effort.

I thought that I was doing great until I started taking blood pressure readings. My blood pressure is generally 10 points above what I want it to be (130/85). There are so many factors (stress, caffeine, alcohol, genetics, salt) but I thought I would throw it out there that I am a generally fit 38 year old runner that is confused with my higher than normal BP.

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Anonymous said...

I lost yet another friend to "undiagnosed heart disease". He was a long distance runner all his life and collapsed after running on the treadmill. He was 52 and the third runner I have personally known to die this way. This is an addictive sport which causes scar tissue to form around the heart. As we age, we need to back off, yet people are doing more of it, maybe mid-life crisis or just more available time. There are much safer and more effective exercise methods like Peak 8. Total good health is a bit complicated, eat right with few carbs and lots of veggies, exercise moderately by lifing weights and use short spurts of intense exercise with alternate rest, and finally practice mental well-being. There are lots of sites dedicated to this for more info.