running 15 miles a week is heart healthy, running 45 miles a
week gives you a cardiovascular system three times as clean
and strong, right?
study sounds a serious alarm about such thinking, adding to a
growing body of research on the topic of excessive endurance
heard of the runner’s high. Researchers now want you to hear
about runner’s plaque — coronary artery plaque.
short: Running super-long distances for many years might
backfire on you.
of extreme exercise efforts appear to erase some benefits you
get from moderate exercise, so that your risk of heart
disease, of dying of coronary disease, is the same as a
sedentary person," said James O’Keefe, preventive
cardiologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
said the study found that men who were marathon runners for 25
years had 62 percent more plaque buildup in their coronary
arteries than men who were sedentary but were similar to the
runners in other respects, including age.
increased quantity of plaque in the marathoners’ arteries
included both hard, or calcified, plaque and the more
dangerous soft, fatty plaque. The latter is the kind that can
be predisposed to rupture and cause a heart attack.
is co-author of the paper in the latest issue of Missouri
Medicine, the journal of the Missouri State Medical
Association. The study was conducted by Robert Schwartz and
colleagues at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.
unwavering advocate of exercise and its health benefits, O’Keefe
said the new study adds weight to the idea that the potent
benefits of exercise are "dose dependent."
the right amount matters. Being sedentary is unhealthy.
Regular, moderate exercise bestows long-term benefits.
logging huge numbers of miles and running marathons can keep
you thinner, lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and offer
other benefits, it appears the subsequent wear and tear on the
heart is a potential drawback, O’Keefe said.
study’s marathoners, who had run at least one 26.2-mile race
a year for 25 years, had a lower weight, resting heart rate
and body mass index than the non-runners. The average age of
both groups was in the 50s.
works out well for the 3-milers — keep doing that, O’Keefe
said — but it’s cautionary news for marathoners and
ultra-marathoners, at least those who have been at it for
John C. Hagan III, a Kansas City area ophthalmologist and
editor of Missouri Medicine.
started running in 1967, and those were the days when the
police would stop you and ask you what you were running
from," said Hagan, who wrote a personal article to
accompany the plaque study.
lifelong dedicated runner, Hagan participated in more than 25
half marathons, four marathons and two half Ironman
Triathlons. He typically ran 30 to 40 miles a week.
was surprised when at age 61 he was diagnosed with atrial
fibrillation, a heart rhythm problem. After learning more
about runners with heart problems, he finally decided to get a
heart scan for his coronary artery calcium score, an indicator
of heart artery plaque.
felt confident that his running had provided protection. A
calcium score of 100 or less is considered mild calcification,
and 400 is considered extensive. His score was 1,606.
a physician and a runner, I felt betrayed," he said.
"I thought I was out there exhausting myself, building an
absolutely indestructible heart."
70 now and no longer runs, but he walks 30 minutes nearly
every day and regularly swims and lifts weights.
a marathon if it’s on your bucket list, when you’re
young," he said, "then cut way back."
years ago, in a report published in the journal Mayo Clinic
Proceedings, O’Keefe and fellow authors cited evidence that
extreme endurance training may cause structural damage to the
heart, making it stiff and enlarged. That paper showed that
moderate running distances two to five times a week at
moderate speeds offered the best health benefits and that even
15 minutes a day of physical activity was helpful.
Valdez, coach of the Runner’s Edge training group in the
Kansas City area, said he is aware of recent research about
the potential ill effects of years of long-distance running,
and last year he held a clinic for his clients on the topic.
told my runners, ‘We can’t ignore this research,’"
such studies don’t offer definitive answers yet, Valdez
said, the research is "sobering," and he encourages
his long-distance runners to see their cardiologist and to
consider a scan.
fewer miles also reduces overuse injuries, and he has seen
clients gravitate to more moderate regimens.
may be the answer in running, as with everything else in
life," he said.
for more than 30 years, Valdez has cut back his miles from
about 40 a week to 20 to 25. He plans on running one more
marathon this fall — the 25th anniversary of his first
marathon — and then no more.
feel I have one more in me," he said.
worries that some people will use the findings to argue
against exercise. But they would be ignoring the overwhelming
evidence that being sedentary is clearly dangerous for the
heart, he said.
people will never have the super-exercisers’ issues. For
every person who is over-exercising, there are 19 people not
getting enough exercise, O’Keefe said.
about 15 to 20 miles a week provides optimal health benefits,
O’Keefe said. Or walking can provide benefits, from 2 miles
a day to as much as 40 miles a week. Virtually all types of
exercise and activities can also be protective, but moderation
is best for long-term benefits, he said.
this really knocks the props out from under anyone with the
excuse ‘I just don’t have enough time’ or ‘I’ve
never been an athlete,’" O’Keefe said. "You can
train up to be the most ultra-fit endurance athlete ever, but
that’s not what’s required for longevity. Moderate