by Mbio Staff November 22, 2016


Healthy RunnerYou need only ask your doctor to hear him or her espouse the health benefits of regular exercise. While some will caution against certain types of activity for patients with specific medical concerns, by and large the healthcare community encourages a regular exercise regimen for strength, weight loss or maintenance, heart health, and a slew of other potential benefits.

That said, some people do tend to seek challenges and push their limits. This is perhaps the case with many distance runners that work their way up to marathons, triathlons, and some of the most extreme running challenges in the world.

This is where some doctors may start to caution their patients. It's no surprise that endurance sports can have some negative impact on the body.  In the case of running, the emphasis is on impact. However, recent studies have shown that there could also be a correlation between long distance running and more serious health concerns.

Is long distance running healthy? What impact can it have on your health now and in the long term? Here are a few health facts every runner should know.

Joint Health

Perhaps the best known detriment of long distance running is the damage this high-impact sport can have on joints over time. Many runners that train hard for a race will take some time off afterward to rest and recuperate, giving muscles and joints time to repair any damage caused by increased demand.

Osteoarthritis is a concern among endurance runners.  As of yet, studies on the link between long distance running and osteoarthritis have proven inconclusive, particularly in cases where no other risk factors for osteoarthritis exist.

This isn't to say that joint injuries related to overuse and trauma aren't common among seasoned distance runners. However, you shouldn't have undue concern about the onset of osteoarthritis as a result of endurance running, unrelated to other risk factors.

Muscle Health

In addition to joint pain and injury, many endurance runners suffer from muscle injuries such as sprains, strains, tears, and so on. This is part and parcel of overuse of muscles.  However, it can be prevented, to a degree, by practicing proper form and knowing when to take breaks to rest and repair muscles.

Immune Health

When tissues in the body are subjected to high demand and forced to perform beyond their normal limits, the result is often inflammation, which signals trauma and kicks the immune system into high gear. This could open the door for other types of illness or injury while the immune system is compromised.

For this reason, most runners supplement their immune system with proper diet, additional vitamins, and extra sleep to compensate. Maintaining immune health is important for endurance runners that don't want to lose progress to a common cold or more serious ailments.

Heart Health

There have been rare cases of marathon runners dying from heart attacks while running, and more commonly when they're not in the midst of exercising. Of course, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S., and family history and a number of other factors could play a role.

Research has been conducted on the condition of people who make it a habit to run long distances over the course of their lives, particularly where heart health is concerned. A 1996 study claimed the risk of heart attack within 24 hours of a marathon was 1 in 50,000, which doesn't sound like much cause for concern.

The greater potential concern is inflammation and scarring of heart muscles. A study conducted by Mathew G. Wilson and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology linked endurance running to myocardial fibrosis (or scarring of the heart muscle). The study used CMR (cardiac magnetic resonance) imaging to examine the cardiac structure of a control group, a group of young endurance athletes, and a group of older endurance athletes.

Although a higher instance of myocardial fibrosis was found in the older running group (50% as opposed to zero instances in the other two groups), the findings were not enough to create definitive causality - only create a link that requires further study.

The truth is that anyone interested in endurance running should speak to a qualified physician about the potential for harm and how other factors like medical history could increase their risks. This is the best way to determine if long distance running is a healthy option for you.

Mbio Staff
Mbio Staff

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