HEART RISK SEEN IN OLDER MARATHONERS

Yesterday I talked about the potential effects of running a marathon has on your cardiovascular system.  The information I found recommended running a minimum amount of 45 miles per week for 3-4 months to condition the heart to the extent where it’s muscle tissue would not be damaged by the actual event itself.  Today I want to take a look at another article/research study depicting the relationship between running and heart attacks.  This study was conducted in 2006.

Healthy men over the age of 50 who had finished at least five marathons in the last five years were more likely to have major calcium deposits in their arteries than healthy men who did not run as much.  Calcium build up is a sign that arteries are hardening.  If you consider yourself healthy, the more disease you have , the more likely you are to incur a heart attack at some point in your life states the study’s author, Dr. Stefan Mohlenkamp who is a cardiologist at University Clinic in Essen, Germany. 

36% of the 108 male marathon runners in the study had coronary artery calcium scores above 100, possibly a sign of cardiovascular risk states Mohlenkamp.  Similar scores were seen in 22% of the 216 men who did not run the marathon and had risk factors for heart disease.  Dr. Mohlenkamp’s study only looked at calcium stores, not clinical outcomes.  He plans to follow up with his subjects for at least five years to evaluate scores reliability at predicting heart problems.  Mohlenkamp also stated that that the study does not suggest that exercise is not beneficial.  Rather that competitive exercise that pushes the body to the limit may take a toll on some older athletes. 

Women are at less of a risk due to the fact that women typically develop atherosclerosis 10 years later in life and are much less likely to be running marathons at the age 60.

Jim Fixx Author of The Complete Book of Running.

 

Death by running has become more apparent the last 15 years or so along with the fitness boom.  Jim Fixx was the first victim of running induced death by heart attack of note.  Ironically, he was the author of the first book about running titled, ” The Complete Book Of Running”.  Fixx was 52 when he died of a massive heart attack after his daily run in Hardwick, Vermont.  Prior to Fixx becoming a runner he was very unhealthy and sedentary.  Weighing in at 240 lbs and smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day.  Which was normal in the 1970′s.  Some argue that running is what brought on his sudden death.  Others say that he would have died at a much younger age if he hadn’t changed his unhealthy lifestyle to a one of running and exercise.  Fixx’s father died at the age of 42 after having his first heart attack at age 37. 

Is running a marathon similar to a self induced stress test?????

In Jim Fixx’s case and a lot of others, they’ve found major coronary arteries to be either completely occluded or almost completely occluded at the time of death.  This doesn’t happen solely from the arterial calcium build up that was found in the runners in the study mentioned above.  That is attributed to diet, lifestyle and genes.  So can we really blame some of these deaths on running?  If these individuals knew of their conditions I don’t think they would’ve been trying to push their cardiovascular systems to the limit running a marathon.  If you are male and over the age of 45 you should certainly check with your doctor before attempting an event like a marathon.  It’s better to get a supervised stress test in a lab, then getting one out on the road 5 miles from your home where no one knows where you are.

 

RESOURCES:

The Boston Globe.  Nov. 14,2006.  “Heart Risk Seen in Older Marathoners.”

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