Is Marathon Running Bad for the Heart?

Some interesting articles:

Is Marathon Running Bad for the Heart?

Running marathons ‘could permanently damage the heart’

Every now and then we hear about people dropping dead during marathons, and our unfit friends and family point this out to show us how “dangerous” running is. It seems in most cases these people had a heart defect. In my non-expert opinion, it certainly is possible that marathon running or over-training can cause at least a little heart damage even in healthy people, but this damage is usually temporary.

In the articles above, they examined only a small number of marathoners. We need studies that examine larger numbers of marathon runners so we can see what is really going on here.

Still, it is important to know that contrary to what many people would have us believe, completing a marathon doesn’t necessarily represent the pinnacle of fitness. Indeed, in the days and weeks following a marathon, for many runners, it is more like the opposite of fitness due to the damage caused by the running and the long recovery period. Some may even suffer from permanent injuries that can lead to being less fit and healthy in the long run. There are diminishing returns when you exercise beyond what is necessary for being fit and healthy, especially if you’re focusing almost exclusively on cardio which is what marathon-training is. As a person who has run and joggled half-marathon distances many times over the years, I can attest to this.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t run marathons. I’m simply saying, and I realize I may sound like a heretic to some, you don’t have to run or joggle marathons to be truly fit. You don’t even have to run every day to be fit, so long as you run or exercise most days of the week. Fitness shouldn’t be a form of punishment. If you run on a regular basis, don’t feel bad if you are not capable of running a marathon – it’s not the only game in town or the sole measure for determining how fit you are.

If you have a heart defect or suspect you may have one, be extra careful. See your doctor before attempting even half-marathons if you think you may have something. Also see your doctor if you decide you just want to be a total couch potato, which we know is much worse for the body than running.

Running a very long distance is overrated as a measure of fitness; marathons aren’t for everyone, but if you have the right physique, no heart defect, train properly and recover quickly, then running marathons may not be a bad idea. We at Wild Juggling want you to be creative with your fitness program, we want you to challenge yourself. But this doesn’t necessarily mean punishing yourself or pushing yourself to extremes that have more drawbacks than rewards.

4 responses to “Is Marathon Running Bad for the Heart?

  1. A dear friend of mine is in his 60’s, he ran marathons for 25 years.
    When I first met him I thought he was 80, running marathons, literally destroyed his body.
    This is a healthy, fit guy were talking about. His spine, feet and knees are un-fix-able, unless he agrees to one of the riskiest spinal procedures ever.
    It is very sad that someones good intentions may take them 1 foot in the grave. My sister runs marathons and I try to tell her to take it easy.
    Thanks for posting this.

  2. I’ve known people like this too. It isn’t easy figuring out how much of this is due to over-exercise or due to aging or due to genetics. Hopefully more research will be done on this, especially on ultra-marathon runners.

    Then there is Fauja Singh, who has been running marathons through his 90s who appears to be in good shape at 101. Some people have the physique(very slender, narrow-chested, slow twitch muscle fibers in their legs due to genetics) for running long distances without causing serious problems, but most people do not, in my opinion. I hope your marathoner friend will be alright, and that the surgery helps him out, if he decides to go that route. I also wish you and your sister the best, thanks for your comments. Happy New Year!

  3. Really enjoyed this read. I have been “running” for years, but just recently started for distance and time. I don’t consider myself a runner – but I am told to think differently from experts, articles, runners, etc (whatever, haha)… I think I enjoyed this so much because (with my first half-marathon coming up) friends are encouraging me to do a marathon. While, with a bit more training, I think physically and mentally I’d be good to go… I don’t want to do it. :-). Your post made me happy with my mind-set…. not because I fear some sort of random (and somewhat inconclusive data) heart problem, or anything negative as such… but your focus on fitness. I don’t need to say, “hey! I ran a marathon” or “I’m a runner….” I’m just happy I am doing something I enjoy to remain fit. (ok, enjoy = love/hate relationship with running) 🙂

    • That’s the way I see things. There’s no reason to see yourself as less of a runner just because you don’t run marathons(I’vre never been in one). Each person should have their own unique fitness goals and their own style. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to fitness. And as I said before, over-training can suppress the immune system in a lot of people, which is the opposite of being healthy.

      One of the ultimate goals of my blog is to inspire people to create their own approach to fitness, even if it has nothing to do with juggling. Juggling and joggling are great, but there are countless other forms of cardio you could do. Whatever you do, enjoy it. Take good care of yourself!

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