In April, a 30-year-old woman collapsed and died one mile before finishing the London Marathon. Completing a marathon is often thought of as the epitome of health, but every year there are reports like this one of people dying before they complete the race. Is marathon running really as healthy as it seems?
While heatstroke and hyponatremia (low sodium levels in blood caused by drinking too much water while exercising) are certainly a factor in marathon deaths, the vast majority of people die during a marathon because of a heart attack. Marathon running puts enormous stress on your heart.
According to a study by the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk by a factor of two or three, but the extended vigorous exercise performed during a marathon raises cardiac risk by seven-fold. During a marathon more than half of the segments in your heart lose function due to an increase in inflammation and a decrease in blood flow. Elite runners in the 100 marathon club (people who have run a minimum of 100 marathons in their lives) often have heart muscle scarring as a result.
Research now suggests that the best fitness regimen is actually short bursts of high-intensity activities, not long-distance running. Here are some tips for optimal workouts:
A variety of exercises performed regularly (e.g., weight training, cardio, stretching, etc.)
Alternate difficult days with easier days
Interval training sessions
Ample time for rest after physical exertion