Marathons and Your Heart

No one ever said that marathons were easy. That’s just not part of the equation and you likely approach your races expecting a significant challenge,  even if you’re a more experienced runner. Many have concerns, though, that marathons may be more than just difficult; Research has brought put that it might even be dangerous. What are the potential concerns associated with marathons and how can you protect yourself?


A Look at the Science

A brief review of the research may paint a pretty grim picture of your post-race cardiovascular health, especially if you peruse the headlines that feature variations on the phrase “Marathons Could Kill You!” The happy truth, however, is that this doesn’t represent the whole picture.

While it is true that marathons,  obviously,  put an immense amount of stress on your heart, it is also true that only about one runner in every 184,000 suffers cardiac arrest during or after the race. And most of these runners have had a preexisting heart condition that was either undiagnosed or ignored.

So, then, it seems plain that the average person,  with a clean cardiac bill of health,  has nothing to worry about when tackling 26.2 miles. The reality, though,  is slightly more complicated.

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology discovered that several negative changes take place in a runner’s heart immediately following a marathon. Specifically,  there was an observable decrease in ventricular function on both sides of the subjets’ hearts. Significant damage was also seen in the cardiac tissue.

This might all sound scary at first, but the stuy also contained one key point: These negative outcomes were only noticed in runners with less training and preparation. Basically,  the stuy supported the very logical conclusion that the lower your fitness level, the higher your risk of heart damage.

It’s also important to note that this damage was only temporary. Again, though,  fitness level played a key role in recovery. The researchers theorized that a better trained heart is more adept at recovery from the damage and does so more quickly.


Proceed With Caution

Clearly, then, there’s a need for caution when preparing and training for a marathon. Your first step should be to see a doctor.  Not only will it be important to judge your own risk for heart disease, based on blood pressure,  cholesterol and other factors,  but your doctor will also want to consider your family’s history. If you have family members with heart disease, your risks arw significantly higher.

Then, of course, you’ll want to begin a careful training program. Your workouts should be gradual,  allowing your body ample time to adapt.