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Is Running a Marathon Good for the Heart?

Is Running a Marathon Good for the Heart?

Many people believe that running for exercise is synonymous with good health and that marathon runners are near-perfect human specimens. In general, it’s thought that people who incorporate running as part of a regular exercise program are healthier than those that don’t exercise at all. Recent studies and the heart-related deaths of marathon runners have people questioning that belief.

Benefits of Running

On its own, running can be great exercise. Its many benefits include the following:

  • It is a great way to burn calories and fat, so if you’re on a weight-loss plan, it can help you reach your goals. If you’ve already reached your goal, it’s a great way to maintain your new weight.
  • It can help raise your levels of good cholesterol and increase healthy lung function.
  • It’s an amazing stress reliever. The endorphins released can help elevate your mood quickly and naturally.
  • The energy and hormones that are released during running help reduce your stress levels. High stress levels are a major contributor of many illnesses.

Running a Marathon is Different Than “Just” Running

Racing in a marathon takes running to a whole new level entirely. Full-length marathons are 26.2 miles long. Athletes come from all over the world to participate in the most famous ones, including the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon. They train for months in order to be able to handle the trek, which can be grueling. The damage inflicted on the body during a race could be painful, but it’s generally been thought that any benefits outweighed the negatives.

It would seem that given all of the health benefits that come from running, marathon runners are in optimum health. Recent studies seem to suggest that in some cases, that may not be true. A 2012 report in Mayo Clinic Proceedings reported that the damage that marathoners and other extreme exercisers inflict on their bodies builds up over time, resulting in an eventual buildup of scar tissue on the heart. The buildup of scar tissue on the heart led to incidences of myocardial fibrosis in about twelve percent of the marathon runners who were studied. The report concluded that repeated extreme exercise could eventually lead to conditions like an enlarged heart, premature aging of the heart, atrial fibrillations, and stiffening of the heart muscles.

What It Means for You

You may be wondering what this means for you? It certainly doesn’t mean that marathons are dangerous. The message here is that anything in excess can be bad for you, even “good” behaviors. If you’re planning on running marathons, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don’t even think about starting a running program, let alone run a marathon, without getting a full checkup and clean bill of health from your doctor. Your doctor can find out if you have any pre-existing heart conditions or any other health issues.
  • Follow approved marathon-training programs so that you can build your endurance slowly and surely. A twenty-six mile run is no walk in the park and shouldn’t be treated as such.
  • Don’t run every marathon out there. Space them out so that you can keep your heart healthy and safe.

Following these tips and any other your doctor lays out for you can help keep you heart healthy as you move forward in your quest to become marathon man or marathon