With first ultramarathon approaching, now’s a fine time to figure it out
With 8 weeks to go to my first ultramarathon, this probably wasn’t the time to be watching a video that details how too much exercise may not good for your heart health.
But if you’re a long-distance runner, the video above is worth 18 minutes of your time.
The video, featuring noted cardiologist James O’Keefe, was recorded at a TEDx conference at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in September 2012. The presentation is titled, “Run for Your Life! At a comfortable pace, and not too far.”
On the seminar’s website, O’Keefe’s presentation was summarized this way:
“… Extreme endurance training and racing can take a toll on your long-term cardiovascular health. For the daily workout, it may be best to have more fun (and) endure less suffering in order to attain ideal heart health.”
For runners, the speaker carries a extra level of credibility: he’s also a former triathlete and a life-long runner.
O’Keefe also references New Orleans’ physician Carl Lavie, whose work stressing fit over fat I referenced in an earlier blog.
In his TEDx presentation, O’Keefe doesn’t urge us to give up running. But he suggests that the greatest benefits come from running a a few miles at a time at a moderate pace just a a few times a week. And he presents some evidence that extreme training and running has negative consequences for our cardiac health.
Anecdotally, O’Keefe points to Micah True — featured prominently in the best-seller “Born to Run” — as an example of what happens when we overtrain. This story explains the cardiac distress that killed True.
O’Keefe isn’t the only one who has suggested that extreme exercise may decrease your life span. I listen to a podcast by Ben Greenfield, an expert on nutrition, exercise and endurance sports, and he has said that he figures his extreme exercise marginally lowers his life span. But he also points out that sometimes we do things we love but aren’t good for us.
Certainly, O’Keefe’s advice is something to consider. And there may be a day when I radically curtail my training. (He also notes that cutting back on training at any time can reverse some of the damage caused by extreme training — much like giving up cigarettes can erase some of the years of damage from smoking.)
But for now, I’ll relish the physical challenge and the mental boost I get from endurance training and competitions.