Can Long Distance Running Damage Your Health?

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not long distance running could actually damage your health. After all, it’s exercise and exercise is good for you. The problem comes when you consider the gruelling effect it has on the body, especially if the runner isn’t trained properly. There are many reasons people choose this athletic activity over others. It’s challenging and easy to measure, so you know exactly whether you’ve improved or not. If you can run further and faster, the answer is simple. You’ve done well.

Runners experience inflammation.

Some runners take it a step too far in an already grueling sport. They overexercise. It’s similar to working out every day in the gym. It puts a stress on the body and doesn’t all muscles to heal. With long distance running, the results of stress come in the form of inflammation. While moderate exercise helps stop inflammation, excessive exercise can actually be damaging. There are several studies that found that conclusion. One study published in European Heart Journal compared the plaque build up in two groups. The first group was those who were committed chronic runners and the second group was a control group of couch potatoes. The runners actually had far more plaque, which is one identifier for future heart disease.

You can get too much of a “good thing.”

We all have heard stories about people taking too much medicine in an effort to get better faster and ultimately getting sicker or worse, dying. That’s known as the “reverse effect.” That means something good for you can not only lose the benefits, but also cause damage where you have too much of it. While regular exercise significantly reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, extended vigorous exercise, like running a marathon, can actually increase the cardiac risk by as much as seven-fold. When running in a marathon, the increased inflammation can cause loss of function in over half the heart segments, decreasing blood flow. It is temporary, but also lethal in some cases.

Heart scarring and heart damage after lifelong cardio.

Both animal studies and human studies have shown that those who exercise the longest each day and the hardest may be putting themselves in danger of cardiac scarring and heart damage. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology used fit older men as subjects who had competed in at least 100 marathons. Of the group, about half had heart muscle scarring. Those with it were the subjects that trained the hardest AND the longest. Animal studies showed the same results. When mice were subjected to continuous long bouts of strenuous exercise, there were structural changes and scarring in the heart that resembled the same changes found in humans that were endurance athletes.

  • Running can be a healthy outlet, but it must be alternated with other types of less strenuous exercise. Runners need to be careful to modify their workout. Too much of a good thing might literally be too much for the body.
  • Some scientists believe that the best exercise actually mimics what hunter-gatherers might have done. In many cases, it resembles HIIT training with bursts of activity followed by a recovery period.
  • While running has its risks, it also has its rewards. A carefully monitored program can improve muscles, strengthen bones and actually boost cardiovascular health. It can lower the risk of death by as much as 19 percent.
  • Running more than 20 miles a week, six to seven days a week or ran faster than eight mph can cause benefits to diminish. The maximum benefits from running comes from hitting the bricks for five to 19 miles spread out among 3 to four days at a pace that’s between six or seven miles an hour.

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