running and mortality

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Tracy Beth Høeg MD, PhD has penned a helpful summary of research on running and the heart. "The long-term effects of running on the heart and on health in general," she writes, "are overall very beneficial:"

Specific cardiac changes can occur in endurance athletes, which runners should be aware of. In very rare and specific circumstances--which are outlined in this article--running can result in collapse or death due to problems with the heart.

"When people ask" if running is safe for the heart, she continues, "I like to think that they are really asking two questions:"

1. What is the short-term risk of suffering a cardiac event ("heart attack" or dangerous cardiac rhythm) while running/racing?

2. What are the long-term effects of running on the heart?

Here are Høeg's responses:

The answer to Question 1 is that there is, indeed, a slightly increased risk of a cardiac event during strenuous exercise, if you are predisposed (by coronary-artery disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and many other conditions... However, this risk is overall very, very small. The answer to Question 2 is that running and exercise greatly improve cardiovascular health and decrease your cardiac risk and overall mortality.

Citing various studies, she points out that "regardless of speed, distance, or time spent running weekly, runners have lower rates of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality than non-runners," and "even after adjusting for co-variates such as age, the runners had over a 40% survival benefit." She does, however, issue this caveat:

Particularly strenuous marathons and ultramarathons have been shown to reduce cardiac function temporarily once the race has finished, but function appears to, without exception, return to baseline within one week, thus strongly suggesting there is no permanent heart damage done.
"In conclusion," writes Høeg, "there is overwhelming evidence that regular endurance exercise is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality:"
If you do not have an underlying heart condition or disease, your risk of sudden cardiac death during a race is essentially zero. There should be no generalized recommendation for adults or children to reduce exposure to running or exercise. So go ahead, keep running (!), and on a rest day, consider getting certified in basic life support.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 15, 2018 8:11 AM.

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