Are Marathons Actually Bad for Your Heart?
While it is true that sometimes a person tragically suffers a cardiac emergency during a race, those statistics pale in comparison to the number of people who have heart attacks or other heart-related problems that are exacerbated due to inactivity.
We are told to engage in cardiovascular activity to take ourselves down a path to greater heart health.
So why then ask the question, does marathon running increase cardiac emergencies?
Are you doing your heart more harm than good by participating in endurance sports such as running a marathon?
Is Running Good for Heart Health?
There are many ways running improves your heart health.
Here are the top 6 health benefits for your heart:
- Reduces blood pressure
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight
- Strengthens heart muscle
- Minimizes heart workload
- Reduces your risk of heart disease
Does Running Increase the Risk of Heart Attack?
If you were to trust sensational headlines, you might believe that distance running can actually be bad for your heart. While it is true that sometimes a person tragically suffers a cardiac arrest during a marathon race, those statistics pale in comparison to the number of people who have heart attacks or other heart-related problems that are exacerbated due to inactivity.
Erin Michos, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins and avid marathoner, closely follows the research to help dispel misconceptions.
Michos states, “there is far more compelling evidence in favor of endurance exercise than against it. Favorable effects on blood pressure, blood lipids, and body mass index have been reported with physical activity, and large studies show that endurance athletes at higher levels of fitness are the least likely to suffer from heart failure.”
When you’re out there running a marathon or half marathon, you’re at a slightly higher risk of suffering a heart attack than you would be dealing with if you were at home on the couch.
Over the long term, though, a regular running habit will decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. This is a significant point when compared with the fact that a sedentary lifestyle has been clearly linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, back problems, obesity, and diabetes.
Although if your big goal is heart health, you don’t need to train for a marathon. You can run your way to greater heart health, running far fewer miles than you will do training for a marathon.
Can Running a Marathon Cause Heart Damage?
Well, anytime you get your heart rate up, you are at a slightly higher risk of having a cardiac emergency. This is not just true of running. The same can be said for other aerobic exercises such as Zumba, cycling, your favorite HIIT class, or even having vigorous sex.
The fact of the matter is that when your heart rate is elevated, especially for an extended period, it is working harder.
What people fail to mention when quoting studies that talk about the dangers of having an elevated heart rate for a prolonged period of time is that most people who have a cardiac event while working out had an underlying condition they likely knew nothing about.
Why Do Marathon Runners Suffer from Heart Attacks?
Usually, if a runner suffers a heart attack while out training or racing, it is because of an underlying heart problem or condition. This is just one reason why you should get yourself checked out by a doctor before embarking on a new training program.
You are at risk of having a cardiac emergency if any of the following pertain to you:
- New to working out
- Family history of heart problems
- Experience palpitations, chest pain, or shortness of breath
- Risk factors such as high blood pressure or being overweight
- Lifestyle items such as a history of smoking or overindulging in alcohol
- Over age 40
Can You Run a Marathon After a Heart Attack?
Some people can, and others cannot. If you google this question, you will find many testimonials of people who worked closely with their physician and cardiac rehabilitation center to get themselves into marathon shape after having a cardiac emergency. Don’t let that lead you to register for a marathon just yet.
Each individual person and their situation is different. Whether or not you can run a marathon after having suffered a heart attack is up to your doctor to decide. If your doctor just says no without any conversation and you want a second option, don’t hesitate to do that. But don’t trust Doctor Google.
Running, in general, is good for your heart. Just like any other muscle, your heart must be trained to function optimally, and running provides that type of training.
However, the heart can also be overtrained and overworked just like any other muscle. Forcing it to pump enough blood and oxygen through your body to haul you through 26.2 miles is a lot to ask of a pretty small muscle.
Proper previous training is an absolute must to safely and successfully run a marathon.
Running long-distance races is hard. Before you tackle any race of any length, be sure to train properly and make whatever lifestyle changes are necessary to compliment all of that hard work.
Keep in mind that your heart will likely become more susceptible to damage and other abnormalities as you age. Of course, these changes can happen at any point in your life based on genetics and numerous other factors.
So, be smart and adapt your training as needed to protect your cardiovascular system.
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