Ya Gotta Have Heart

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness

We all know that running is good for our bodies, but a recent report in the March issue of a medical journal suggests too much running can actually damage the heart. At least in middle-aged men.

A 51-year-old physician failed a calcium screening used to measure hardened arteries despite having no coronary risk factors to explain the buildup. Researchers say it”s a first for them: the man seemed in perfect health with no history of heart disease. The culprit, the concluded after further study, was too much running.

Yep, you read that right.


“The case of the running doctor suggests that too much exercise may have the reverse effect in certain people,” according to a widely distributed Bloomberg News report on the American Journal of Cardiology piece. “The patient jogged at least one hour a day for 30 years and ran two marathons every year.”

The doctor’s colleagues at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore tested blood flow through his vessels before and after exercise. It also was matched against 10 other men averaging 41 years old to compare results. The control group”s vessels constricted immediately after exercise but improved an hour later. The running doctor’s vessels stayed constricted during the same period.

Another story on the study carried on the graduate school guide focused on the doctor’s long running streak and notes: “The researchers concluded that the physician’s intense, long-term exercise regime, coupled with a predisposition toward a type of hypertension, contributed to his cardiovascular disease.”

It continues: “In this particular individual, we think that oxidative stress was an important contributor,” says the study’s senior author, Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the medical center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School Of Medicine. “But we also found that this individual has exercise-induced hypertension, which I think is vastly under-diagnosed.”

For those wondering, oxidative stress refers to cell, tissue or organ damage from a class of molecules associated with oxygen metabolism that includes free radicals. It plays a role in varied health disorders, including heart disease, sleep disorders and asthma.

The researchers suggest middle-aged male runners, especially those older than 50, be evaluated to make sure they don”t have similar calcium deposits in their arteries.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Jon (was) in Michigan on April 3rd at 6:14 pm

    Ok, Anne, thank you for scaring the bejeebies out of me!

    It sounds like there were some contributing factors and it wasn’t the “running” that caused it but other abnormalities like “a predisposition toward a type of hypertension” that occurred during exercise. IF he were biking, he probably would have gotten the calcium build up as well.

    Hmmmm. How the heck do they check for something like that? Stress test? Can they check you BP while you run or do you stop and measure it? How do they measure blood vessel constriction?

    Lots to think about on this one.

  2. Will running ruin your heart? « Run to Win » on April 3rd at 8:14 pm

    […] at Complete Running has pointed out a recent study where running can cause heart issues in middle aged men. Is this something that you should worry about? A 51-year-old physician failed a calcium […]

  3. Jessica on April 4th at 7:04 am

    Great article Ann. The title concerned me at first until I realized I don’t have any of the risk factors being a 30 year old female 🙂