Endurance athletes and heart trouble – should we worry?

The Sunday Times carried an article this Sunday (11 March 2012) explaining mounting evidence from numerous studies that suggests that endurance athletes may endanger their hearts through accumulated intense exercise.

Essentially, according to Matthew Wilson of the research institute for sport and exercise sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, it looks like “lifelong repetitive bouts of arduous endurance exercise may result in fibrotic replacement of the myocardium [heart muscle] in susceptible individuals, resulting in … the development of arrhythmias.” As we get older our bodies naturally tend to fibrose which means that our joints and connective tissues ‘dry out’ a bit which makes them a bit stiff. It looks like in susceptible individuals, the same thing is happening to their hearts so they don’t work as well. This research is just the latest of many compelling studies.

Sadly it seems that club runners are also at risk, not just the elite and ultra endurance athletes like pro road cyclists, ironmen and ultra runners. Poor old (or not old) Abdala Rafle, 38, of Herne Hill Harriers was running 40-50 miles per week when he had a series of heart attacks last October.

So what to do? Not worry, I suspect. But it goes to show again, that the ‘everything in moderation’ is still a good maxim. I don’t think it’ll change anything I do… after all, although I do some big weeks as my ironman race approaches (well, big for me – say 15 – 18 hours), it’s not year in year out. But if you were worried it’d be worth getting hold of a copy of the article and taking it along to the GP to see what they say.

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