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Debate Over the Dangers of Marathons

Are Marathons Bad For You?

With marathon season winding down (NYC marathon is 11/1) there is an ongoing debate in the medical field over the effect the 26-mile race has on the heart. Some scientists are claiming that running a marathon causes long lasting damage to the heart, while others say the damage is only temporary and is brought on by the extreme physical demands of the race.

Last year studies were conducted in Australia, Canada, and Germany measuring the effect running a marathon had on the hearts of elite to novice runners. Tests were given on the participants immediately before and after running a marathon. The end findings were similar across the board — the participants showed marked blood indicators of cardiac damage.

“We measure those same blood markers when someone comes in to the emergency room and we suspect a heart attack,” says Davinder S. Jassal, MD, an assistant professor of cardiology, radiology, and physiology at the University of Manitoba as told to the New York Times. Blood profiles like those displayed by the runners are similar to those in a very mild heart attack.”


Those scientists that oppose the findings, site that the research is premature and the studies were too small. They also say that accurate results cannot be determined since researchers in the original studies did not follow up with any of the participants after the race day. A later second study conducted in Canada seems to support this claim — a week after completing a marathon, researchers followed up with the runners and found none of the initial damage was lasting.

As the debate continues please keep in mind that running long distances is definitely taxing on the heart. Check out our tips to avoid any risks while training and share your own tips with us below.

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
runningesq runningesq 7 years
Saucy, I'm guesing she's fast 'like whoa' too. I really wish people would STFU sometimes.
SaucySassy SaucySassy 7 years
Yeah that cellulite is whoa is that pic. yikes.
sparklestar sparklestar 7 years
I would never ever run a marathon. I am aiming to run a half marathon next year with sufficient training (hell, I could run one now) but I outright refuse to push my body through 26 miles of hell just for the sake of it. I too noticed the cellulite first. :) I'm so happy.
TidalWave TidalWave 7 years
Well doing anything too much isn't good for you
sheena sheena 7 years
The blood tests done for a suspect heart attack (CPK-MB, Trops, LDH, AST) are not all specific to cardiac muscle damage. The only one that is is the Troponin which is specific to heart muscle damage. The other markers are non specific, and could indicate heart damage, but show up during any type of skeletal muscle damage. So it makes sense that the LDH, AST, and CPK-MB would be up after someone ran a marathon because there would be general skeletal muscle damage. I'm doing my final nursing consolidation on the cardiac unit, and I need to know my lab values inside and out :)
lydialee_home lydialee_home 7 years
I don't think a marathon is extreme. However, it is another story if you just go for a marathon without proper training. Also, I never push myself to the extreme - I usually run at 80% of my max heart rate. I do see some people push it at the end and pass out as soon as they cross the finish line - now that's dangerous.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I don't put much faith in these kinds of studies. I agree that you definitely need to train properly before you commit to running a marathon or do a triathlon because if you don't, you really could do some damage. But the heart muscle adapts to exercise pretty well, so I would think that if you build up to running 26.2 miles, your heart's probably ok. I actually didn't notice the picture at first, but when I took a second look at it, I could see some cellulite too. Pretty much everyone gets it, even athletes.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
The first thing I noticed was the cellulite too! And I thought - thank goodness because that's what my legs look like when I run. Glad to see it! I think anything involving endurance that is attempted without proper training can be harmful. It's all in how you prepare.
runningesq runningesq 7 years
I'm with spacekatgal. What does the study say about thsoe who run a marathon AFTER a 2.4 mi swim and a 112 mi bike?
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
Interestingly, the study was only conducted on males in their 50s, 60s and 70s who had run at least 5 marathons in the prior 3 years. I would say that if you're in your 70s and able to run 5 marathons in 3 years, I think you're doing ok regardless of what this study says.
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
How about, if your limbs are starting to look wiry and your face begins to resemble a skull, you might consider that something you're doing may be "not the best" for your health.
hausfrau hausfrau 7 years
i'm glad i'm not the only one who noticed the cellulite first!
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
This makes me think of the episode of HIMYM where Barney just up and runs the NYC Marathon without training.
littlekaren littlekaren 7 years
This goes right along with the "everything in MODERATION" mantra. Running an extreme number of miles non-stop seems to me to be a little much. So if it turns out to be true that it is bad for the body, I won't be surprised.
mamasitamalita mamasitamalita 7 years
that honestly was the first thing I saw, laellavita!
laellavita laellavita 7 years
can i just say that i LOVE how the photograph of the runner has cellulite if you look closely enough? proof that even elite atheletes' bodies aren't perfect, so why should we beat ourselves up for the one or two flaws here and there?
carmenspace carmenspace 7 years
I don't think marathons are bad for you, because it's all about how well you train. If you get a physical from a doctor, and let them know what you are planning to do, they can run tests to make sure your body is up to it. I helps to gradually increase your training so your body gets used to it. There are always exceptions, but overall, running marathons has had a positive effect on my health.
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