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How Long-Distance Running Can Affect the Heart

April 16, 2014

running race imageLast week, I discussed why exercise needs to be prescribed like medicine is prescribed, according to the specific needs of each individual. This is why it makes no sense to tell everyone who wants to lose weight to get on a treadmill or go outside and start running.

In fact, I’ve never endorsed long-distance running for exercise, even though a myth exists that running is good for the heart and the best way to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

You may have heard the phrase “runner’s high,” a feeling of invincibility that helps runners overcome and ignore pain and lose sense of time. Runners have certainly heard of this.

However, new research has introduced the concept of runner’s plaque – coronary artery plaque – which can be caused by running long distances for a number of years, according to a study conducted by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.

The study discovered that there was 62 percent more plaque in the arteries of men who ran marathons for 25 years than those men of the same age who were sedentary. This included both calcified and soft, fatty plaque, which is more likely to cause a heart attack.

Let me be clear about one thing. Being sedentary is unhealthy. The marathoners included in the research had a lower body weight, lower resting heart rate, and lower BMI (body mass index) than non-runners.

However, marathons can cause muscle damage, joint pain and inflammation that last long after the race is complete. Studies have also shown that long-distance running can cause an enlarged heart because it needs to pump more blood throughout the body.

You may have heard the story of Jim Fixx, an accomplished runner and author of “The Complete Book of Running.” Fixx dropped dead in 1984 during a run at the age of 52. The cause of death was arteriosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of the arterial walls that causes the arteries to become clogged.

I’m a big believer in Burst Training, or High-Intensity Interval Training, which involves shorter bursts of high intensity activity with rest between bursts. But as I always say, any type of training needs to be prescribed individually.

If you’re an athlete who wants to run a marathon or compete in a triathlon, I won’t tell you to stop following your dream. Just keep in mind that your high level of fitness doesn’t make you immune to health problems. There are safer ways to exercise, so make sure you’re aware of the long-term health risks of long-distance running.

suit photo 240x300 Who’s Writing Your Prescription for Exercise?Dr. James Prood­ian is an accomplished chiropractic physician and health educator who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise for the past two decades has been in physical rehabilitation, and he has successfully established himself as a spinal specialist. In his practice, he advocates the science of functional medicine, which takes an integrative approach to treating patients by addressing their physical, nutritional, and psychological needs. Alarmed by the escalation of complex, chronic illness in our country, Dr. Proodian has been speaking to companies and organizations through his “Wellness at Work” program since 1994, motivating thousands of people to make positive lifestyle choices and lead healthier, more productive lives. He can be heard weekly on his radio program, “Proodian Healthcare By Design,” on Tandem Radio.

Dr. Proodian

Dr. James Proodian is an accomplished chiropractic physician, health educator, and professional public speaker who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise is in identifying clinical imbalances and restoring the body to health and functionality. Contact: jproodian@naturalhc.com or (732) 222‑2219.