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Is my "healthy" hobby going to kill me?

Edit: just giving equal time...Runners World has got an article debunking lots of this (written in response to the WSJ below. 

I'm intrigued. Really, whenever my interests collide, I love it. Learning the physics of a bicycle. The chemistry of coffee. How statistics modeling correctly predicted the outcome of the November election.

So the health effects of endurance sports intrigues me. Usually, we get a steady stream of data showing that exercise is good for us. Very, very good for us. Don't let this post convince you not to exercise.

But, on the other hand, I like the phrase of one of the links below...there are "upper limits." You CAN have too much of a good thing. A cup of coffee may be a great way to start your day, but it is possible to have a caffeine overdose--granted, it's nearly impossible. If running a mile is good for you, 26.2 must be great? Right?

Well, this morning I dived down the rabbit hole when someone posted to a tri message board about heart damage from endurance training. You hear about people dying in races (tri AND marathons) all the time...usually one per large race. The data is somewhere around 1 per 100,000 participants. Triathlon perhaps double because of the swim.

Where is the line though? 15-20 miles of running per week seems to be it, btw. Heads up to all you less-hardcore running community folks. Keep it below that to reap the 20% lower risk of overall death compared to non-runners. But also know that nearly 50% of marathon finishers show elevated levels of cardiac enzymes that are the markers for longterm damage.

The heart is a muscle. The old tale is "it only has so many beats why use them up." But one doc I link to below compares it more to other muscles in the need for rest days. If you put too much stress on your heart muscle by going too far, too fast...well, it ain't pretty.

And at least one guy with MD after his name (and some research--maybe) says Ironman, that 140.6 mile swim/bike/run is actually bad for you. As in, not a good idea. Although I'm also somewhat amused by the way this "news" has been received. Pretty much a snarky yawn from the triathlon community, at least. Marathoners I think tend to be more cautious...but also more skeptical about anybody who says something so good could ever be bad for you. Triathletes, I think, are more willing to say "you're probably right--so what?"

So...slower and less are the key. If you're at the back, perhaps more health to you? Am I doing my hobbies risk-aware? Yes. I know they can be dangerous. But so is the drive to the gym in the car. Chicago expressways at rush hour. Chicago expressways at any hour. Am I drawn to the endurance sports world because it presents extra challenges? Perhaps.

While I don't advise anyone to go from the couch to running 26.2 miles without serious medical and athletic research about what they're getting themselves into...I'm also here to say that the water is fine if you want to jump on in. I'm in the camp that wants to see more people participate. Because, honestly, would we rather see people dying from high blood pressure, eating potato chips, drinking soda and eating McDonalds? Or would we rather see more people dying from trying to push themselves to greater athletic achievement during a 2 mile swim? Yes, I know not dying seems like the most appealing option. But if we all have to go some how, some way...I'd prefer to slowly kill myself the more adrenaline-filled way. Plus, let's be honest, no matter how ugly those compression bike shorts are they're still a heck of a lot sexier than having to undo the button on your jeans because you ate too much.

Links:

New Studies on Older Endurance Athletes Suggest the Fittest Reap Few Health Benefits


And, if all this isn't enough, one Chicago-area bicycle attorney/advocate suggests that while Chicago cyclists are perfectly within their rights to ride outside the bike lanes...it may not be in your best interest. 

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