Wait. What? Marathoners have more artery plaque than non-runners?

Running News

HeartA controversial study says that that long-time marathoners have more plaque in their arteries than non-runners.

The study, published in Missouri Medicine, compared 50 men, who all ran at least one marathon a year for 25 consecutive years, to a control group of 25 non-runners. Those non-runners included men who were overweight, smokers or who had diabetes, Kare11 reports.

“We would have expected they had less plaque because these are very fit people, typically good healthy lifestyle, lots of exercise, of course healthy eating habits. In fact, they had slightly more plaque, a big surprise,” Cardiologist and study author Dr. Robert Schwartz told Kare11.

The study states: “Certainly, lack of physical activity and exercise training are much greater problems for our society than is the potential adverse effects of excessive endurance exercise. We must recognize that most participants in excessive endurance exercise, including marathon runners, are not doing this activity for health reasons alone, but are driven by the thrill of competition, fellowship, and the attainment of personal goals.”

And I love this quote by MD and marathoner John C. Hagan, III:

“Why has it taken physicians over 2,500 years to understand that maximum physical exercise for very long periods of times are as unhealthy for their patients as was for Pheidippides? I don’t know; it’s all Greek to me.”

But the Wall Street Journal reports that many cardiologists are skeptical. “The science establishing a causal link between vigorous exercise and coronary disease is shaky at best,” said Aaron Baggish, a Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologist who does triathlons and marathons told the Journal.


In February, Runner’s World wrote about a study of Boston marathoners to determine if excessive exercise causes atherosclerosis – a disease in which plaque builds up in your arteries.

The study used 42 Boston Marathoners who had been running for 12 years, on average, and trained about 40 miles a week. The control group was their spouses – selected because they share many of the same lifestyle habits.

The result? There was no difference between the two groups.
“This should be reassuring to marathoners,” says Beth Taylor, Ph.D. told Runner’s World. “Our study suggests that while endurance running is not a ‘magic pill,’ neither is it a loaded gun. To optimally modulate their cardiovascular health, runners need to continue to focus on diet, stress reduction, other risk factors, and regular checkups.”
The study did find some pros for marathoners.  The runners had significantly lower body weight, significantly lower resting heart rate and significantly lower BMI.



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