As a nation, we’re keen runners/joggers. Yesterday saw the latest running of the London Marathon and of course, in the North East, we have the Great North Run plus various charity 5k and 10k events. You can’t fault our enthusiasm and our commitment to charity too linked to these events.
It was very sad to hear that a 42-year-old man collapsed at the end of the London Marathon, just after crossing the finishing line, and was pronounced dead when he arrived at hospital. I mean, he was JUST 42! This is not the first time either. Remember when four people died en route to South Shields during the 2005 Great North Run? In 2006, another man in his twenties died.
Why could this be happening?
I can just about get away with 5k runs but anything longer than that and I’m just not a fan. Here’s why…
With continuous long endurance training such as long distance running (on the road or on the treadmill), you are routinely forcing your body to perform the same cardiovascular challenge, by repeating the same movement, at the same rate, over and over again, without variation, and without rest, which is unnatural for your body. Also, how many people actually look in discomfort when they are running at slow speeds along the pavements?
Yet nature has designed your body to adapt to whatever environment you encounter. If you ask it to perform this activity repeatedly and routinely, it will gradually change the systems involved to meet the challenge more effectively.
What does this mean?
The body’s primary adaptation will be to become more efficient at light, long, continuous, low output as you are asking it to repeatedly go non-stop for long distances, against low resistance, at a relatively slow speed.
One of the ways that your body adapts is by gradually rebuilding your heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles as small as possible but still have the minimum energy required.
Forced, continuous, endurance exercise (as in long distance jogging) induces your heart and lungs to ‘downsize’, which will still allow you to go further, more efficiently, with less rest and less fuel.
Reverse Heart Disease
Most heart attacks are caused by sudden demands placed on the heart. That’s why it is so important to condition your heart the right way. Building reserve capacity is critical. It protects you from the risks of having a heart attack. Like I said above though, long durational cardio and excessive aerobic training can actually shrink your heart and reduce its capacity to adjust to changing demands. So training for a Marathon or the Great North Run may not be doing you any favours when it comes to protecting your heart. Jogging in the same way every day (or at least frequently) will downsize your heart, leaving it more vulnerable to shock situations. And running a solid 26 miles (or 13 miles as in the Great North Run) could certainly be a shock situation for your heart.
This is what could be happening to these event runners. It’s just my theory – obviously, there could be more underlying issues with some people.
What to do instead?
On the other hand, progressive short intense exertion periods with appropriate rest periods build up that critical heart reserve capacity – it will make your heart stronger and more able to deal with stressful situations. I’ll talk more on this (and how you can build up your heart reserve) next time.
Tune in if you want to strengthen your heart (and lungs).