Health Risks Associated with Ultramarathons

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If you walk to the finish line of an ultramarathon, you can easily conclude that such races are unhealthy. Tired runners, blistered feet and busy medical tents are not uncommon.

we know that regular physical activity is a profit marginFrom lower disease risk to better brain health. But ultramarathons aren’t necessarily “regular physical activity,” and recent research suggests they may actually have long-term risks. These negative health consequences may sound alarming. However, according to experts and current evidence, most people can safely participate in ultramarathons with smart training and racing habits.

heart concerns

According to Nick Tiller, MD, an ultramarathoner and researcher at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the biggest area of ​​concern about the potential long-term risks of ultrarunning is the heart. This is because the cardiovascular system is easily altered by activity and is essential for health.

Tiller recently a Wait Potential long-term implications of ultra-endurance races. First among the concerns? Malformation of the heart.

Competing in an ultramarathon requires a considerable amount of training that forces the body to adapt. change – such as increase in capillary density which allows more blood delivery to the muscles, or increased blood circulation With each heartbeat that allows for greater efficiency – improving your ability to run.

“All of these things are favorable, but the downside is, because the cardiovascular system is malleable, you can have negative reactions,” says Tiller. These negative reactions are well documented. increased risk of developing lifelong runners predictive factor For heart disease and death, such as atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm) and myocardial fibrosis (scarring on the heart). Similarly, runners can develop right ventricle dysfunction (the heart’s right ventricle loses efficiency) and coronary artery calcium build-up (calcium-rich plaques in the arteries).

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These adaptations are found in a large proportion of endurance athletes. Atrial fibrillation is prevalent among endurance runners and professional cyclists. found being five times higher than in other groups. research published in the journal Spreading found that more than 50 percent of endurance athletes displayed right ventricle enlargement. others studies High plaque levels have been found in about 50 percent of participants who exercised heavily.

If all of this sounds alarming, there is good news. According to Tiller, there is some evidence to suggest that high levels of aerobic fitness and large training volumes don’t actually put you at an increased risk of mortality. in fact, a study concluded that higher training loads and the associated increase of coronary artery calcium (CAC) do not increase the risk of mortality or cardiovascular disease. one more time study found that, even though people who did high amounts of training had higher CAC levels, they were not more adversely affected than those who exercised less.

A sports medicine physician at the University of Washington and medical director of the Seattle Marathon, Dr. “I want to be very clear that running is healthy, running is healthy,” says Mark Harrast. He has published research on optimal levels of exercise for heart health. “We just don’t know what the limit is [of healthy exercise] Is. But from the limited evidence we have, it seems there may be no definite limit. Doing more may not be better, but it may not be bad either.

Higher levels of training absolutely cause a change in the heart. Some of those changes may be associated with negative outcomes, but the important question is whether they actually lead to increased health problems and mortality. Hurst says there isn’t enough data to provide a conclusive answer, but growing evidence suggests there is no clear point where the benefits of running outweigh the potential risks.

Takeaway? If You’re Healthy, It’s Probably Safe continue training,

kidney damage

The heart isn’t the only part of the body affected by ultramarathons. The stress of a race affects many body systems. One of the most common race-day health risks is acute kidney injury (AKI), an episode of kidney failure. During exercise, there is less blood flow to the kidneys, and as a result, kidney function is reduced. Often, AKI is worsened by high temperature, dehydration, and anti-inflammatory injections; It is commonly seen among both marathoners and ultramarathoners.

These injuries are short-term ailments, and often heal within a few days. repeated though Aki associated with a greater likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease. How strong this link is, and how many ultrarunners are at risk, is unknown.

During a race, the most common advice to reduce the risk of AKI is to follow current guidelines for fluid intake and salt replacement. “After a race, there are a lot of things that are related, including acute kidney injury and more chronic kidney injury,” says Harst. “You need to recover before you start pounding the pavement or pushing too hard.”

bone and muscle damage

Many runners are concerned about joint damage, and with good reason. have musculoskeletal injuries General among endurance athletes. These can range from stress fractures to muscle tears to tendonitis. Roughly 90 percent of the injuries that ultra-endurance athletes suffer are related to overuse, according to a study published in Sports Medicine, This is understandable given the high training volumes required to complete these events. While low to moderate levels of running have been linked to increased bone strength, higher amounts may have the opposite effect.

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there is some evidence Something similar happens with the development of osteoarthritis in runners. “When you’re not running at all, you have higher levels of arthritis. If you’re a light to moderate runner, your chance goes down. Those levels of running are really effective at preventing arthritis,” Harst says. However, with a higher amount of runners, the data is not as clear, but “it does suggest that there is more arthritis in that population.” He stresses that most people shouldn’t avoid running for fear of developing arthritis.

For runners concerned about developing osteoarthritis, Harst recommends an individualized approach, as certain factors can make a person more likely to develop osteoarthritis. These include previous knee injuries and family history. Runners can consult with their doctor or physical therapist to develop strength training programs designed to help prevent the development of osteoarthritis, and should be careful with increasing training volume and recovery.

youth participation

Most experts agree that ultramarathons aren’t for teen athletes. “We know that youth athletes under the age of 16 really shouldn’t be participating,” Tiller says. Youth athletes who participate in ultras are injured more often than their peers, are more likely to sustain injuries in adulthood, and often does not continue To participate in ultra-endurance events.

Hearst agrees. “For longer distances like marathons and up, waiting until late high school, if not later,” is recommended. He stresses that any participation must be youth-driven, and that high training volumes should not be the result of parental or coaching pressure. The stress on the body is excessive, the training level required to perform well is likely to be too high, and the risk of burnout is increased. Thus, many experts recommend Discouraging youth single-sport specialization until after puberty.

reduce risks

The stress of the race is evident throughout the body after the run. “You’ll get a big change in the body. You’ll get a big decrease in lung function, a big decrease in heart function, a big increase in inflammation,” says Tiller. Most of these changes get better within a few weeks. For, in intermittent doses, they are nothing to worry about. But Tiller, who recently turned 40, is concerned about the long-term effects of repeated exposure to these stressors, and is adjusting his racing accordingly. Habits have changed.

“As I know the literature, I’m more conservative with my running now. I used to run between three and five ultras a year, but these days I’ve become more selective, especially as I’ve gotten older. he says. Time between races allows the body to recover.

The amount of time to take between runs will vary between individuals. Tiller suggests at least a few months between ultramarathons, but this will vary based on distance, effort and other similar factors.

Similarly, here’s Hurst’s biggest advice for would-be ultramarathoners: “Respect the distance and make rest part of your training regime,” he says. He stressed that improvement is necessary both in training and after the race. “Really, it just means paying attention to your body. Don’t run from injury and pain. Don’t try to push through when you’re not ready.

Hurst says runners should try to get good sleep, nutrition, and take care of musculoskeletal ailments. Whether it’s through massage and myofascial work or cross training and off-days, recovery is essential to increasing health and longevity in sport. Similarly, following a personalized training plan that is tailored to you can improve racing results while promoting recovery and reducing the risks of overtraining.

So, are ultramarathons safe? For the most part, yes. With informed decisions about which races to run, how often to run, and how well you recover, most people can participate in an ultramarathon without negative consequences. Running is good for your health and ultramarathons can be a fun way to challenge yourself and compete with like-minded people.

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