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One of the problems he has with the studies is that they have focused only on athletes.
“There could be a reporting bias,” he said. “If you’re running, you’re much more likely to be aware of a change in your heart rhythm than if you’re sitting on a couch, watching TV. Runners check their pulse and monitor their performance [in terms of their speed]. If my performance drops, I’m going to notice it. But if I’m just sitting, I’m not going to notice anything, and that means that I’m not going to report it.”
Bart, who participates in 30-mile cross-country ski races, said there still are some basic questions that the marathon studies need to address.
“We know that, in general, marathon runners live longer,” he said. “What we don’t know is how much of that is self-selection. Are they healthier because they exercise more, or do they exercise more because they are healthier?”
To run or not to run
Bart shares other experts’ concerns that the studies can be twisted into an argument against exercising. “The bottom line here is that exercise is good for you,” he said.
He does recommend that anyone considering any sort of endurance sport check with their doctor first. Plus, one of the most important things to exercise is common sense, he said.
“All things in moderation,” he said. “Listen to your body.”
Allison seconded that theme.
“There does seem to be some evidence [in the studies] that obligatory running — feeling the need to run every day no matter what — increases risk,” he said. “Never giving your body a rest doesn’t make a lot of sense. The body needs time to recover from stress.”
Wenmark, whose ALARC organization is the nation’s largest marathon club, insists that he’s not endorsing endurance sports as an exercise regimen for everyone.
“I don’t think everyone should run marathons,” he said, pointing out that there are also joint and muscle issues that make marathoning a bad idea for some people. “But I think there’s a lot of misinformation in these reports.”
He’s worried that such information could cause an overreaction in the other direction.
“It’s the yin and yang,” he said. “This is the yin. A year from now, we might get the yang and there will be studies saying that everybody should run a marathon. I’ll take just as much umbrage about that.”
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392