As a holistic nutrition devotee and avid runner who logs 45-50 miles a week, you can imagine how upset I was to read another article warning of the health risks of running. This recent piece in the Los Angeles Times can be found here: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-running-health-20150202-story.html.
Based on their findings, the researchers of a small Danish study published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology claimed that strenuous joggers had similar mortality rates as sedentary nonjoggers. The article went on to say that, "too fast, too far, and too long," may lead to potentially serious health consequences. I wanted to refer to the data, but there were no links to the actual study. The article did say that the authors of the study admitted that further studies are needed to better evaluate the controversial issue.
And, yes, I have to agree that it IS controversial. With obesity rates on the rise, researchers and medical professionals should be encouraging exercise in their writings and not publishing outrageous claims without substantial evidence. Claims like these only provide an easy excuse to discourage anyone from getting outside to exercise. We have a population that spends more time in fast food restaurants and in front of the TV and computer than ever before.
My own personal history and the experience of loved ones who share my passion for the sport serve as positive examples of the benefit of endurance sports. I have been running since the age of 13 and have run thousands of miles over the years. Yes, I am an exercise addict, but I have never been healthier in my life. According to my doctor, my blood pressure, heart rate, glucose fasting numbers, cholesterol and triglyceride levels are excellent. Her exact words at last year's physical: "You are going to live a very long time." Well, there are no guarantees in life, but I'd like to think she is right. I have four pounds of steel in my right femur due to bone surgery from years ago. My orthopedic surgeon says that my bone healed faster than most due to my running, which he believed strengthened the bone. A more compelling example is of my mother-in-law, once a world-class masters runner and American record holder. Now, at the age of 80, she still competes in 5k races, jogs, and walks many miles a week. With many of her peers visiting doctors for arthritis, high blood pressure, and other age-related ailments, she only visits her doctor once a year for her annual physical. My father, an avid runner up until age 75, still keeps in shape at 81, logging very long walks or bike rides of 6 plus miles daily. He did have heart surgery for a genetic defect, but when the doctor finished the operation, he marveled to my dad at how squeaky clean his arteries were. The results of my dad's many years of running? Most likely. After a 6 plus hour surgery, he was able to bounce back better than most people his age because of his physical strength gained from years of running. He is also one of the few in his family who has successfully avoided getting diabetes.
There are also many psychological benefits gained from running long distances. I am a person who stresses easily and running is my stress reliever. When I finish a long run, I am a new, refreshed, more focused individual. Running pumps endorphins, boosts mood, and relieves mild depression:(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7240545.stm).
In my nutrition training, I learned that just because a certain type of diet may work for one person doesn't mean it will work for another. In other words, “one person’s food may be another person’s poison." This concept is known as, “bio-individuality.” Each individual has a unique genetic make-up and their own set of lifestyle-oriented goals and challenges. When choosing a diet, it’s important to know your body and to find a diet that works for you. I believe this same principle should be applied to exercise as well. There are people who will benefit from running and a few who may not and should not run due to genetic factors.
We need to keep things in perspective until further information is provided. We witness thousands of runners ( many of them famous) year after year competing in half marathons and marathons, yet, with an exception of a very, very few, we don't see these same competitors dropping dead at the finish line. The most famous marathoner to die of a heart attack was Jim Fixx, who was known to have genetic factors for heart disease but continued to eat donuts and other junk food. So, was it the running or the years of bad dieting that caused Jim Fixx's heart attack? Alberto Salazar, a world class marathoner collapsed of a heart attack a while ago at the age of 48, but admits to a family history of heart ailments and to eating his fair share of cheese burgers. According to his physician, if it wasn't for his conditioning, he probably would have had a heart attack in his 30's: ( http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/why-did-alberto-salazar-have-heart-attack). Could it be that you just can't "run away" your bad eating habits? Health experts need to prove that long distance running causes a problem, and not merely report research showing association.
In closing, I offer the following article that points to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that was conducted over a ten year period showing that there is a very low incidence of heart attacks among marathoners and half marathoners; in fact, the article encourages long distance running if you have a clean bill of health:(http://www.wellandgoodnyc.com/2012/01/18/study-hall-marathon-runners-are-at-low-risk-for-heart-attacks/.).
Genetic factors, lifestyle, and the diet of the individuals need to be considered in any study before showing cause and effect. Until then, you'll continue to see me out on the roads!
To my fellow runners out there, keep on trekin' !