Run for Your Life - But Not too for too Long & Not Too Fast

heart athlete

More research is emerging which shows that extreme endurance exercise is damaging our hearts. The heart, like any other muscles need time to recover after hard exercise.

The list of athletes with heart damage which either ends their careers or becomes apparent after continues.

Here are just a few. 

Eddy Merckx

 'The greatest cyclist of all time' - 

Merckx had a non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a genetic condition in which the heart muscle thickens, affecting its functioning.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, lightheadedness, fatigue, and fainting. The condition is the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. 

Hamish Carter

2004 Olympian Champion in Triathlon - Atrial fibrillation secondary to heart scarring.

Emma Carney

Cardiac Arrest in 2004 - Diagnosed with Ventricular Tachycardia and has a Pacemaker fitted for life. 

Sam Warriner

(now a member of Team TBB and back to racing) : Supra Ventricular Tachycardia (treated with electrical ablation therapy) 

Greg Welch

(Multiple Triathlon World Champion) - Ventricular tachycardia, he has undergone nine open-heart surgeries from 2001 until 2003.

Hayden Roulston

Tour de France Pro cyclist  - potentially lethal Heart Arrhythmia.

Norman Stadler

- Ironman World Champion x 2 - Heart Valve failure and Aortic aneursym (ballooning ofthe main artery from the heart) 


Here is an extract from the author of the study published in British Medical Association Journal - Heart in April 2013. 

Author - James O'Keefe MD: 

"Evidence is accumulating to indicate that exercise routines that are best for conferring Cardiovascular (CV) health and longevity are not identical to the fitness regimens that are best for developing maximal endurance and peak CV fitness. The potential for CV damage secondary to extreme endurance exercise appears to increase in middle age and beyond. Thus, it would seem particularly important to avoid chronic excessive exercise doses after age 45 or 50 years"

'Cardiac overuse injury’

is the term we have coined for this issue. Most endurance athletes, especially long distance runners, understand and may have suffered orthopaedic overuse injuries including plantar fasciitis, Achilles’ tendonitis, shin splints, or patellar chondromalacia. In the case of cardiac overuse injury, this might eventually cause fibrosis and scarring of the myocardium, potentially dangerous rhythms, and accelerated coronary atherosclerosis (a constellation of abnormalities which has been labelled ‘Pheidippides’ cardiomyopathy’).  

Most avid runners, cyclists and triathletes are not engaging in their sports solely because of perceived health benefits.

People do not scale mountain peaks, skydive out of airplanes, or race motorcycles and cars for health benefits. They may do so because they may find it exhilarating, or for the love of competition, or for stress reduction, camaraderie, a sense of accomplishment, or the ‘adrenaline high’. On the other hand, if your primary goal in performing regular exercise is to maximise your longevity and long-term CV health, the evolving data suggest that a moderate amount of jogging is ideal.

As with alcohol, sleep and calorie intake, just because ‘some’ is good, ‘more’ is not always better. 


Quantity of jogging and mortality. Green bars: significantly different than non-joggers (referent).     Longevity in Male and Female Joggers: The Copenhagen Heart Study Feb 2013.   Am Journal of Epidemiology.     

Quantity of jogging and mortality. Green bars: significantly different than non-joggers (referent).

Longevity in Male and Female Joggers: The Copenhagen Heart Study Feb 2013.

Am Journal of Epidemiology.


Higher and stronger doses of chronic running may be associated with diminished health benefits compared with less extreme doses.

"Admittedly, this is currently still a hypothesis, yet we suspect it will evolve into a new paradigm for optimal exercise dosage." James O' Keefe (runner and MD Cardiac Physician)

All quite alarming.

 This video by the author of the article explains why.


Authors' Conclusion: 

"The take home message for most is to limit one's vigorous exercise to 30–50 min/day. If one really wants to do a marathon or full-distance triathlon etc, it may be best to do just one or a few and then proceed to safer and healthier exercise patterns. On the other hand, light or moderate intensity exercise does not present the dose-dependent risks associated with excessive endurance exercise. A routine of moderate physical activity will add life to your years, as well as years to your life. In contrast, running too fast, too far, and for too many years may speed one's progress towards the finish line of life."

Food for Thought. 

Read More - Here: The Heart of the Issue.