Marathoners Beware -- It Might Be Too Much for Your Heart

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 23, 2001 -- Running a marathon may be too hard on your heart if you haven't trained properly. Researchers are suggesting that this little 26-mile jaunt be left to serious competitors only.

Two studies in the Oct. 17 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology show that marathon runners may be setting themselves up for a heart attack.

"My concern is for people who exercise thinking 'more is better,' and that marathon running will provide ultimate protection against heart disease," says researcher Arthur Siegel, MD, director of internal medicine at McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass., in a news release.

Siegel and his colleagues looked at 55 finishers of the 100th to 105th Boston Marathons who were otherwise healthy and with an average age of 47. They found that compared to their blood tests before the race, within 4 hours after the race, they had elevated levels of blood clotting factors that are known to set the stage for a heart attack. In fact, abnormalities in the blood were seen as long as the morning after the race.

Does that mean we should abandon running completely?

"No, not at all. But it does mean we need to understand more about marathon training and how the human body reacts to stress," says Charles Schulman, MD, president of the American Running Association, in a news release. "Coupled with poor or improper training, it could lead to consequences much more serious than just the usual running injury."

It is important to note that despite these abnormal blood factors, none of the runners collapsed or experienced any heart problems during or after the races. Siegel believes this is because another trigger, such as a heart rhythm problem, is needed to actually bring on a heart attack.

"The benefits of an active lifestyle are tremendous," says Susan Kalish, executive director of the American Medical Athletic Association, in a news release. "But Dr. Siegel's work shows that marathoning may have its risks.

"If your goal is to improve your health, go for a run ... but perhaps don't train for a marathon. Leave the marathon to those whose goals are competition or maintaining a more heightened level of serious training," she says.

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