Why Do Healthy People Die Running Marathons?

If you’re into distance running, you should get regular heart checks

This is probably pretty good advice for anyone thinking of taking up running. Particularly if you’re going to try for longer distances such as a half marathon or longer. However, you might not expect to get the same advice if you’ve been running marathons for years. After the sad news that three men died during two marathons on the same weekend, one should really run to the phone immediately to make an appointment with the cardiologist. This article from the Times of India highlights the problem:

Are you in your 40s and eager to run your first half-marathon or are even contemplating entering into the 42 km heart-pounding endurance challenge?

Well, hold the adrenaline rush. First, take some key tests – especially related to heart – before you hit the road with your running shoes.

In the past five years or so, feel experts, middle-aged Indians have picked up on the growing popularity of long-distance running – thanks to celebrity runners like Milind Soman – and are joining half-marathons or full races over the weekends in surging numbers.

However, a proper health screening is a must before any professional run, warn cardiologists, to rule out any underlying condition that may have serious consequences for your life.

According to Dr Lekha Phatak, head (cardiology) at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in Mumbai, running is good for the heart but middle-age people must go for a thorough cardiac check up and begin the regimen slowly.

“Nowadays, we do not guide middle-age people to run or jog. Running is good for younger people and I personally do not advise middle-aged people for long-distance running,” she told IANS.

Anyone who has run a marathon can witness the wear and tear on his body – especially heart.

“If a runner indulges in ‘chronic exercising,’ he or she needs to be extra cautious as it may have several damaging effects on the heart like irregular heartbeat, stiff heart muscles and building up of scar tissues on the heart,” cautions Dr Sanjat Chiwane, consultant cardiology from Columbia Asia Hospital in Gurgaon.

It is important not to compromise on heart health while increasing endurance.

“Take a professional consultation before preparing yourself for strenuous running activities. Many studies have suggested that marathons put unusual stress on the heart so one should not participate in it frequently,” adds Dr Chiwane.

“Those with high blood pressure, we direct them not to run or take part in any marathon,” stresses Dr Pathak.

The best precaution is to let yourself know how much is your limit.

“Assuming that for 30 years of your life, you never exercised or led an active life and suddenly you decide to go for the run. It will certainly affect your body and muscles,” explains Dr TS Kler, executive director (cardiac sciences) at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi.

There have been several deaths – mostly of people who are in their 40s – during the long-distance run in the recent past.

In July this year, a 43-year-old man collapsed and died while running for a marathon in Borivali, Mumbai. Doctors blamed existing ailments that spiked due to exercising and sudden pressure on the organs.

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