Running regularly can have its fair share of rewards and benefits. Running can provide a good, full body workout, strengthen and tone muscles, burn calories and induce fat or weight loss, but as people have learned over the years, too much of anything can be harmful to your health. Sadly, running is no exception.
Running long distances or doing too much running in general can have a profound negative impact on your health. One major disadvantage for continuous running, according to active.com in their article, “The Risks and Benefits of Long Distance Running,” inflammation can occur within the body. They write: “Swelling and inflammation are common after intense exercise, but research seems to indicate that the body will eventually adjust to the increased level of exercise following regular intense training to help reduce systematic inflammation. However, since oxidative damage may be carcinogenic, continued inflammation should be addressed before significantly increasing mileage (The Effects of Marathon Running by Nam Nguyen).” It is also said that when it comes to long distance running, muscle damage and inflammation can remain present for up to seven days after your marathon, which might be not only uncomfortable, but hazardous to your health (1.).
Another negative side effect from marathon running and running long distance, further according to the website, can include running the risk of cardiac events. While running, your respiratory organs work much harder to maintain healthy levels of oxygen in the body for functioning. As your heart begins to pump more and your blood pressure rises, depending on your age and physical health, you may run the risk of experiencing a sudden cardiac event such as a heart attack, or sudden cardiac arrest. In addition, regardless of your health or age, one can develop other cardiac issues such as angina, which is classified as chest pain, cardiac arrhythmias like tachycardias and supraventricular tachycardias and other unwanted cardiac or respiratory conditions.
Competitiverunner.com adds “a newly published report in Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests that the damage endurance athletes do to their hearts actually adds up over time. Repeated extreme exercise or long-distance racing can cause a buildup of scar tissue on the heart, which can lead to the development of patchy myocardial fibrosis in up to 12% of marathon runners. The effects of ‘chronic exercise’ can also include premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and an increase in arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation… In fact, in the release announcing the study, the recent death of ultra-marathoner Micah True–who frequently ran distances in the range of 50-100 miles–during a training run is called out as likely being connected to the long-term effects of excessive endurance exercise. An autopsy of his heart found it enlarged and scarred and suggested that he died of a lethal arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.” (2)
Additionally, although osteoarthritis has not been directly linked to running long distances, or running in general, while running can be helpful for healthy joints, running long distances can cause joint injuries, and studies have linked one of the causes of osteoarthritis to damaged or injured joints. They write: “However, secondary osteoarthritis is directly associated with a history of joint injuries. These injuries may vary from acute to chronic with pain that is mild or severe. Overuse joint injuries are very common among distance runners. Regularly loading injured joints creates trauma which over time, may “deplete the joint of the lubricating glycoproteins, disrupt the collagen network, slowly wear away the cartilage, and cause numerous micro fractures in the underlying bones.” They further write: “Running while injured can also result in poor body mechanics which leads to chronic injury. All runners must consistently focus on using good form. Women, flat-footed runners, and those with unusually shaped patella undersurface must especially focus on proper running form since they are more likely to develop chondromalacia patella. Maintaining proper form becomes more difficult over longer distances as fatigue and length of running time increases. Heavier runners should be especially mindful of injuries since those with greater body mass show greater evidence of osteoarthritis in the joints” (1.).
Other common problems runners may face, further according to the website, are other injuries such as muscle collapse, strains, blisters, muscle cramps, skin abrasions, lightheadedness and exhaustion. They write: “Most marathon runners experience muscle soreness, but elite marathoners have also experienced gastrointestinal distress and back or joint pain. It has been reported that 29 to 43 percent of marathon runners develop injuries during training. Rate of pre marathon injury increases as weekly mileage increases.” (1)
Weight change complications are another negative side effect that long distance runners may face. In order to further prepare for a race or marathon of long distances, the runner must increase their caloric intake to help compensate for the intense training schedule they will have. Active.com writes: “After the marathon has been completed, a period of rest is required for the body to recover. Often, motivation to run has been drained as well since a marathon is so demanding. Running burn-out combined with the habit of eating a high calorie, high carbohydrate diet could cause weight gain similar to that experienced by body builders during the first few weeks after a competition.” The site further documents the negative impact long distance running can have on your immune system. They write: “Running a marathon will temporarily put the immune system into overdrive. As cortisol is released to reduce swelling, the immune system then becomes compromised. Marathoners are encouraged to supplement with vitamin C, reduce outside stressors and get plenty of sleep to support the immune system.” (1)
Running in general can have a lot of wonderful benefits on your health if you make sure to take every precaution and be mindful of the more dangerous side effects and possible complications that can occur. Although, most people run short distances to reap the rewards and the health benefits that running has to offer, if you are planning to run long distances or would like to train for a marathon, always check with your medical primary care provider to make sure you are healthy enough to do so, and always weigh the benefits against the risks to make the best decision for yourself and your body, as too much of anything can certainly be harmful.