Marathons: Less healthy than hamburgers?

Marathons can kill you..!


May 24, 2013, 1:21 PM

By Matthew Heimer

It’s been a chilly spring in Chicago this year, so this holiday weekend might feature my first outdoor distance run of 2013. (Fitness DVDs and treadmills got me through the winter, in case you’re wondering.) But as I plod along, I’ll be mindful of the interesting work that Kevin Helliker has been doing at the Wall Street Journal in recent months.

Helliker has been exploring the growing body of research that indicates that, while cardiovascular exercise, is undoubtedly beneficial to boomers, doing too much of it can essentially erase many of the health benefits. In an article this week, he offers a broad overview of that research with the help of a vivid metaphor. In recent months, he writes, “The line began to blur between the health effects of running marathons and eating cheeseburgers.”  (Helliker does not address the health effects of eating a cheeseburger right after running a marathon, which is a mistake I won’t make again.)

The newest research Helliker discusses is a paper by a long-running project called the National Runners’ Health Study. The paper looked at people who resumed running after surviving a heart attack, and found that their heart health generally improved – unless they ran more than 7.1 kilometers (4.4 miles) a day, in which case they’re mortality rates increased. That’s not so surprising – more than 30 miles a week seems like a lot for someone who’s had a major cardiac problem – but Helliker argues that the conclusion is significant because the NRHS has generally been very bullish about the benefits of endurance running.

Helliker also acknowledges that genetic predispositions may make more of a difference than mileage when it comes to many people’s health. (Case in point: Jeralean Talley, the oldest living American, who turned 114 this week while praising the benefits of a diet of potato salad, honey buns, chicken nuggets and chili.) Of course, if you’d like to get some of the benefits of endurance running without the time investment, there are plenty of alternatives. An article in the current issue of the Health & Fitness Journal, published by the American College of Sports Medicine, features a 12-exercise workout that claims to pack the benefits of a long run and a weight-room session into seven unpleasant minutes.




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