A lot of people are running marathons these days, people of all ages. Whether or not running a marathon is up your alley, media attention is often drawn to cases of heart attacks and deaths during marathons. While this is sad and unfortunate, it does not make marathons a bad thing to do. A new piece of health news shows that marathons and half-marathons do not increase risk of cardiac arrest.
Researchers found that marathoners face a relatively low risk of cardiac arrest, compared to people doing other forms of athletics. This major study in the prestigious “New England Journal of Medicine” analyzed 10 years of data. It shows that the people who had cardiac arrest during marathons and half-marathons had undiagnosed, pre-existing heart problems.
This is the first accurate look at the impact of marathons on the heart. Based on media coverage, the general consensus has been that the risk of cardiac arrest was high. But actually, they face a lower risk than triathletes, college athletes, and even casual joggers. People everywhere are looking to improve their fitness, and marathons provide a major goal to work toward. They should know that it is generally safe and well-tolerated.
The researchers looked into all cardiac arrest cases during U.S. marathons and half-marathons throughout the last decade. They took extensive personal and family medical history, including cardiac risk factors and previous diagnoses, and information about the cardiac event.
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Out of almost 11 million registered participants in the races documented during the study period, the research team identified 59 cardiac arrests — 40 at marathons and 19 at half-marathons. More than 85% took place in men, for whom the risk rose over time. Of the 59 cardiac arrests, 42 were fatal. They discovered a significant number had abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. This is actually the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes, but previously has not been considered an issue in the older running population. Nine of those who died had additional cardiac abnormalities.
The researchers say that underlying diseases that cause cardiac arrest in distance runners can be detected by a simple stress test before race day. More than that, if you are considering running more — a very healthy notion, certainly — speak to your physician about how to safely begin a training program. Take into account any health or mobility issues you have.
But don’t be put off running by the negative reports surrounding marathon deaths and cardiac arrests. Marathons remain, overall, quite safe for most people. And marathons provide people with a challenge, an incredible goal that can at least get people exercising. Since exercise is the cornerstone of disease prevention, this is worth its weight in gold.