One Running Shoe in the Grave
New Studies on Older Endurance Athletes Suggest the Fittest Reap Few Health Benefits
A fast-emerging body of scientific evidence points to a conclusion that’s unsettling, to say the least, for a lot of older athletes: Running can take a toll on the heart that essentially eliminates the benefits of exercise.
“Running too fast, too far and for too many years may speed one’s progress toward the finish line of life,” concludes an editorial to be published next month in the British journal Heart.
My marathoning days are lost in the mists of antiquity (and the Reagan tax cuts). And the WSJ coverage isn't really new news - Drs. O'Keefe and Lavine (two of the authors of this new paper) were mentioned last summer for an earlier paper issuing the same warning.
But we have some good news! In a glossier version of their earlier paper, the good doctors included some specific recommendations for fitness buffs:
Avoiding Exercise-Induced CV Damage
Suggestions for an exercise routine that will optimize heath, fitness and longevity without causing adverse cardiovascular structural and electrical remodeling:
• Avoid a daily routine of exhaustive strenuous exercise training for periods greater than one hour continuously. An ideal target might be not more than seven hours weekly of cumulative strenuous endurance ET.
• When doing exhaustive aerobic ET, take intermittent rest periods (even for a few minutes at an easier pace, such slowing down to walk in the middle of a run). This allows the cardiac output normalize temporarily, providing a ‘cardiac rest period’ when the chamber dimensions, blood pressure and pulse come down closer to baseline resting parameters before resuming strenuous exercise again.
• Accumulate a large amount of daily light-tomoderate physical activity, such as walking, gardening, housekeeping, etc. Avoid prolonged sitting. Walk intermittently throughout the day. Look for opportunities to take the stairs. Buy a pedometer and gradually try to build up to 10,000 steps per day.
• Once or twice weekly, perform high-intensity interval exercise training to improve or maintain peak aerobic fitness. This is more effective in improving overall fitness and peak aerobic capacity than is continuous aerobic exercise training, despite a much shorter total accumulated exercise time spent doing the interval workout.
• Incorporate cross training using stretching, for example, yoga, and strength training into the weekly exercise routine. This confers multi-faceted fitness and reduces the burden of cardiac work compared to a routine of daily long-distance endurance exercise training.
• Avoid chronically competing in very long distance races, such as marathons, ultra-marathons, Ironman distance triathlons, 100-mile bicycle races, etc., especially after age 45 or 50.
• Individuals over 45 or 50 years of age should reduce the intensity and durations of endurance exercise training sessions, and allow more recovery time.
For a similar perspective, Mark Sisson of the Primal Blueprint railed against "chronic cardio" a while back.
So don't let the WSJ scare you - plenty of forms of exercise are great for your health. But maybe putting a marathon on your list of New Year's resolutions is not such a great idea.
PUSHBACK: It's full speed ahead at Runner's World.
PUMPING IRON: Here is a cohort study showing that muscular strength is inversely associated with mortality risk:
Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders.
However, we aren't talking about Arnold Schwarzwenegger here among the ironworkers. Per this chart, to break into the top third on upper body strength a guy had to bench press 185 lbs. one time (on a Universal machine.)