Heart Damage from Marathons

I’ve always thought running to be a great form of exercise. While I don’t particularly enjoy running long distances, I do feel better after running a few miles. If you’ve followed my blog posts over the last two years, you know I’ve gotten into triathlons, which obviously require running. However, I’ve kept my distances short, with my longest race being an Olympic-distance triathlon. The run portion of that race was a 10K (6.2 miles), and by the time I got to the finish line, I was gassed! Needless to say, I don’t have any desire to run farther than that…unless I’m getting chased!

The one marathon I did run was in 2003. After that, I decided I was “one-and-done.” I checked it off my list, and I don’t plan on doing another one. Despite my lack of desire to run 26.2 miles, there are plenty of you out there who love it. Actually, one of my clients just ran her 14th marathon, and in 2010, there were over 500,000 marathon finishers!

But is marathon running really good for you? I believe it is, but of course, new research is telling us differently. A recent study shows that high-endurance activity causes scarring in the right ventricle of the heart. While there’s no doubt that they uncovered evidence to support their case, I don’t think we can simply classify running as bad for us. If all high-endurance activity causes scarring of the heart, then throw triathletes in with marathoners. With the amount of training I have done over the last two years I should be deciding which pace maker to have put in!

While the study makes us jump to worst-case scenario and may scare the living daylights out of some of you, let’s think about our ancestors for a minute. Do you think that our relatives who were hunters and gathers in the truest sense of the word, could afford to not run all day? If they weren’t able to run long distances, tracking their prey, over long periods of time…they’d have starved, and you and I might not be here today.

What I think the researchers are seeing in their study are a bunch of runners whose thoracic spines are too flexed (think “turtle shell,” when looking at one’s side view). As a result, their circulatory system is working way too hard to pump blood to the rest of the body. Just like a misaligned knee will succumb to “wear and tear”…so will the heart. Remember, there are no design flaws in the body. When you eliminate the thoracic flexion, the heart will function properly again.

QUESTION: Do you agree with this new research?