Running from Heart Trouble

There has been a lot of buzz in the news about the risks and benefits of running and jogging. Two recent stories seem to go together nicely.

Reuters: Amateur Marathoners Beware A new study shows amateur marathon runners who don't properly train before a marathon can endure cardiac dysfunction after the race, and these abnormalities may persist for up to a month after they finish. Reuters reports:

The series of echocardiographs obtained for the 20 amateur marathoners demonstrated "attenuation" of heart function after the race.

There was evidence of abnormalities in both systolic function (the heart's pumping ability) and diastolic function (the heart's ability to relax during beats).

All of the systolic abnormalities normalized fairly quickly, but the diastolic abnormalities persisted for up to one month after the race, indicating an inherent alteration in the heart's ability to relax.

The researchers emphasize there is some uncertainty surrounding the study:

Dr. Malissa J. Wood and colleagues emphasize that their results do not pertain to elite athletes; "our group consisted of runners who ran on average less than 40 miles a week during training, a level that is most consistent with the 'average' marathon runner."

Their study also does not address whether this transient dysfunction damages the heart or if there are any long-term cardiac consequences.

NY Times: Running Healthy According to The New York Times jogging and running are excellent forms of exercise, but for those not used to the strain on their bodies it can be deadly. Jane E. Brody reports:

When you hear about someone who has suffered a heart attack or sudden cardiac death while jogging, the immediate assumption is likely to be that jogging is dangerous to the heart. But is it?

The answer is somewhat paradoxical. While jogging, a person especially someone with underlying heart disease is more likely to die than if that person were walking or resting at that same moment. During vigorous exercise, the heart can develop an irregular beat, blood pressure can rise to a dangerous level or plaque from a partly clogged artery can break off and stop blood flow.

But and this is a big but over all, people who jog, including those with major cardiac risk factors, are less likely to have a heart attack in the long run than if they had not been joggers.

The report provides some tips to help novice and experienced runners stay safe:

  • Make sure all cardiac risk factors especially smoking are absent or under control.
  • If you have been sedentary for years or have any doubts about your cardiac well-being, get checked out beforehand. But keep in mind that passing an exercise stress test is not a guarantee of cardiac health.
  • Establish a sensible training program, especially long before an event. All your muscles, not just your heart, need to be up to the stress.
  • Run or walk at your own pace (the marathon is a race for only a few young, elite athletes).
  • Stay well-hydrated with water at first, then with a sport drink if you sweat heavily or exercise for two or more hours.
  • Pay attention to warning signs. If you experience upper body discomfort or pain that could be a symptom of coronary insufficiency during the activity, stop immediately and seek medical attention.
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Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Blane - October 15, 2009 2:02 PM

Great advice. I get frustrated when I hear knee-jerk reactions from people who read articles about joggers dropping dead from heart attacks. Then they assume that if these people were out-of-shape slobs that somehow they would never have had the heart attack. Any sort of exertion that raises blood pressure and cardiac demand can trigger a heart attack in someone who is destined for one (think shoveling snow). But I agree that anyone who tackles a marathon needs to start training for it much earlier than some of the running websites and periodicals call for and training mileage should be much higher. I never agreed with the "train for a marathon in only 6 months with 3 days of running a week"-type programs in the past and feel now more than ever that this is terrible advice for aspiring marathoners.

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