Can excessive running be harmful on your body?

Can excessive running be harmful on your body?

If you’re an avid runner, you already know the health benefits espoused by doctors for years—a stronger heart, less body fat, a healthier heart, lowered cholesterol levels and controlled blood pressure.

And, if you’re a self-professed “obsessive runner,” like Dr. Charles Crotteau, you also know the risks—muscle damage, heart damage and excessive wear to your knees and hips. Now, a new study says running in excess may actually shorten your overall lifespan.

According to the study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C., last year, high-mileage runners are just as at risk of shortening their lifespan as those who get no exercise. Though the researchers say they didn’t find any reasons to explain the findings, as yet.

The researchers used information from more than 3,800 runners, male and female, with an average age of 46, through the online Masters Running Study. The participants, approximately 70 percent of whom reported running more than 20 miles a week, supplied a variety of information, including their use of common pain killers and known heart risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and family history of heart disease. None of this; however, explained the finding that high-mileage runners had shorter life expectancies.

“I would never tell anyone not to run,” says Dr. Crotteau, a family medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “You just need to be aware of how the stress of the exercise is affecting your body. It comes down to not taking anything to excess.”

Dr. Crotteau says there also has been recent study on how high-mileage running “remodels” your heart, producing physical changes that could aid or harm its function. However, he says the benefits far outweigh the risks, as far as he’s concerned.

“I’m an avid runner,” he says, admitting that he’s run in about 25 marathons himself— last year he completed the Boston Marathon. “In the end, if you’re running an hour a day and taking care of yourself, there’s no reason to panic.”

He suggests that runners might want to look into other forms of exercise, if they’re concerned with the risk, such as biking, swimming or even walking.

“I’d suggest a triathlon, to diversify your training,” he says. “Mix it up—bike, jog, swim—but get your cardio training. Don’t let this be an excuse not to get your exercise.

“I think, at the end of the day, I’m keeping my self healthy. The joy I take from the activity counteracts any possible negatives. If I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am.”

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  1. Shannon Homolka April 3, 2014 at 12:02 pm · Reply

    Very interesting. I once had an Olympic runner tell me that she did not run year round. She did other forms of exercise in the off seasons in order to give her body a rest from the wear and tear. I think this is true for anyone who exercises. Diversify your training is great advice.

  2. I completely agree with Dr. Crotteau: “I think, at the end of the day, I’m keeping myself healthy. The joy I take from the activity counteracts any possible negatives. If I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am.”

  3. I hate studies like these! You’re taking a very small sample, in this case 3800 runners! Give me a break! I would really like to see what percent out of that sample where talking about! Drawing the inference from this study that obsessive runner are in damage of shorten life span is very fuzzy! Just how much is too much? Where born to run and it’s in our DNA! Thats how we hunt and how we got where we are! Stop giving running a bad name!

    • A “small” sample would be 12 people. 3,800 runners is not HUGE, but it is certainly not a small sample, and therefore any commonalities that would arise out of that population would make me think twice about running more than 20 miles per week. “Where (we’re) born to run”? Where’s the scientific study supporting that theory? 😉 Last I checked, most humans can’t even WALK before their first birthday! LOL.

  4. Running definitely has a positive affect on my mental health. The joy of running has a great impact on my quality of life.

  5. i realy appreciate this , its true if u run too much u live shortr than normal person , its genuine reason .
    its clearly explain in yoga science

  6. The Tao of Revitalization teaches that we only have so many heartbeats in our life so elevating the heartbeat through running shortens the lifespan…..6000 year old teachings that 99.9% of us don’t have a clue..i didn’t until recently and ive NEVER felt better as an adult!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.