Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is Cardio Safe to Your Heart?

I have rephrased a question asked by one of my newsletter subscribers. The rumor has it that cardio is dangerous and may even cause death from heart attack.

I think the concern arises from a few incidents in recent years that even some elite marathon runners died during a run or race. The incidents were overblown and led to unfair conclusion to running and cardio-related activities and sports.

Cardio or cardiovascular exercise is supposed to strengthen and train your cardiovascular conditioning, not the other way around. Running is definitely the most popular cardio exercise.

In addition to strengthening your heart and your body, running has many other health benefits including your brain and creativity.

Here are a few known endurance sports-related deaths or incidents:

- The Godfather of running, Jim Fixx, author of the Complete Book on Running, died in 1984 during a run at age 52.
- President Jimmy Carter collapsed during a 10K race in Catoctin Mountain Park in 1979.
- In 2007 Chicago Marathon race, Chad Schieber collapsed and died at age 35. In the same race, 302 people were taken to the hospital on that day due to excessive heat (over 90 degrees) and humidity (94% humidity).
- A U.S. running national champion, Ryan Shay, died less than 10K into the U.S. Olympic Trials race at age 28.
- Alberto Salazar, age 50, a winner of the NYC Marathon, has recently suffered a series of heart problems.
- John Hobgood, 52, of Princeton Junction, NJ died in the New Jersey State Triathlon.

The question arises as to how much running is too much. Do all runners need to see a cardiologist and a stress test before entering a race? The cost and time are probably not feasible. Even stress test can't pick up some pre-existing or hereditary heart conditions.

Dr. Norb Sander advises runners to use common sense. Dr. Sander is the only doctor to even have won the NYC Marathon race. Testing your body response in different running conditions. It's the athlete's responsibility to realize the inherent risks of the sport. Running is healthy. We're naturally and genetically built to walk and run.

Just like any sports, there bound to be some uneventful incidents or deaths from running. Perhaps some people were pushing too hard beyond their limits. Every person's body is different. There is a distance for everyone - 100 meter, 5K, 10K, marathon or ultra-marathon.

Dr. Sander rebutted the direct link of deaths to running by citing a statistics from the London Marathon. There had only nine deaths out of nearly 1 million runners over the last 27 years. This is not bad at all.

With the popularity of endurance sports, distance runnings, marathons and triathlons in recent years, the odd rare death may become more common partly from ill prepared athletes and under trained weekend warriors. Tragedies are a part of life and part of sport. Don't let these unfortunate events scare you from exercising and running.

Listen to your body. Use common sense. Properly and progressively train and condition your heart and other muscles. Too-much-too-soon caveat applies here as the #1 no-no. The health benefits from running have more upsides than death scare.

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1 comment:

Kara said...

As long as you're not straining your body beyond its limits, then it's absolutely safe for your health. Not only that, cardio is an incerdibly important part of your fitness routine, and, as the name implies, is good for your heart.

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