Monday, November 21, 2011

Is Marathon Running Dangerous?

The Philadelphia Marathon was yesterday and the headlines today aren't about another course record falling, but about two runners who died of apparent heart attacks at the finish line.  Tragedies like this get attention because it is assumed that marathon runners are in excellent physical condition (generally true) and should be immune to heart disease (not true).

Marathon running and other intense physical activity does carry some small risk.  Most studies put the risk of death during a marathon at 1 in 100,000 or so runners.  Most of these deaths in very young individuals (20s) are the result of structural heart defects.  Coronary artery disease is the cause in most middle aged individuals.

Heart Disease is the #1 cause of mortality in the USA, with more than 200 deaths per 100,000 people annually.  Exercise is known to decrease the risk of heart disease, and most marathon runners have been able to optimize this part of the risk profile.  However, there are many other factors such as family history, high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension that play an important role.

More people than ever are running marathons, so at times it may seem routine and common.  We must remember that training for and completing a marathon is an intensely physically demanding endeavor, one that places great stress on the cardiovascular system.  Get an annual check up from your primary care provider, and make sure you are doing everything you can to minimize your risk.

The late Jim Fixx once said, "I don't know if running adds years to your life, but it definitely adds life to your years."

Read the article about the Philadelphia Marathon here.

No comments:

Post a Comment