Wall Street Journal calls ‘running too fast, too long’ a longevity risk

Oh my. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried a story headlined, One Running Shoe in the Grave with the subhead: “New Studies on Older Endurance Athletes Suggest the Fittest Reap Few Health Benefits.” OK. So what’s the alternative? Die fat and slow? Actually, it’s die thin and slow, since exercise is still found to extend longevity. Sports cardiologist James O’Keefe was asked whether he runs a 5K for time. He replied: “Not for the past three years. After age 50, pushing too hard is probably not good for one’s heart or longevity.” Pete Magill, your days are numbered. (And Ed Whitlock, how are you still alive?) Many thanks to Rita Hanscom, who alerted me to the story.

Ed Whitlock trains at a cemetery, but not for the convenience of his survivors.

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November 28, 2012

20 Responses

  1. Ken Stone - November 28, 2012

    The theme song to this blog post has to be the “50th Street Bridge Song”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBQxG0Z72qM

  2. Stephen - November 28, 2012

    Interesting article. Will it dissuade me from training hard, racing hard, and reaching my goals? I don’t think so. I run because I love the sport, and not necessarily for any health benefit or extending my life. If I drop dead during a race or a workout, at least I will die happy. Maybe this is selfish on my part, considering that I have a wife and two young daughters, but somehow I don’t buy the premise of Dr. O’Keefe’s hypothesis or I am delusional.

  3. Peter Magill - November 28, 2012

    Hogwash. One study versus the plethora of studies over the past few years coming to the opposite conclusion. The main problem with this study/article that I can see is that it labels exercise as “extreme” at specific volumes and paces – as if those numbers were equal for all participants.

    For example: 15 miles per week for a 30 minute 5K runner will take twice as long to complete as 15 miles for me. Does that mean I get to run 30 miles before I’m in trouble?

    Or this: 8 minute mile pace on distance runs for a 25 minute 5K runner would indicate that the runner was doing distance runs at race pace; no question that is “extreme,” and it would be dangerous because of the physiological effect on a daily basis; 8 minute mile pace for me is a jog – on most days, it doesn’t even satisfy the 65% VO2max requirement to be beneficial as training.

    When a study treats volume/pace as a constant for all runners in determining “extreme” exercise, literally run, don’t walk, away from its conclusions.

    And when it doesn’t create separate categories for truly extreme exercise – 100 mile ultra runs, marathons every weekend, etc. – and instead groups everything above a certain training level into one category, it screams: no one involved in this study understands the first thing about this sport (I don’t care how self-congratulatory one author is about his own running past and subsequent withdrawal from the sport … He doesn’t understand the difference between athletes who train smart and those who treat their bodies like punching bags).

    Train smart. Stay fit. Enjoy competition. And remember that Ed Whitlock and Earl Fee didn’t get where they are by believing poorly conducted studies or obeying finger-wagging “experts.”

  4. jeff davison - November 28, 2012

    Spend time with our 90+ year old masters athletes.
    They have the true stories.

  5. Craig Davis - November 28, 2012

    On the lighter side of things. Maybe it’s good to be a sprinter. Less mileage on a weekly basis. Yet he did mention SPEED COULD KILL !! We Sprinters like the sound of that logic. On the other hand I remember an article from Jarad of “Subway” fame. He had a buddy who ran everyday until he was struggling with his health and his wife forced him to go to the hospital. Because he was so athletic his heart looked like a ball of spaghetti. He’s arteries were 90+% closed but the capillaries were so over developed that they saved his life. For most men the wife really saved him by forcing him to go directly to the hospital. So does an athletic heart last longer because it is stronger? We know that it lowers our heart beats per minute. At 55 mine HR is 50-55 not 70-90 beats per minute.

  6. KP - November 29, 2012

    I’ll bet that dude Phiddipidees would have been a helluva a Masters Runner if he would have trained smarter.

  7. William - November 29, 2012

    As another William said, “why run far when you can run fast?”

  8. Ed Whitlock - November 29, 2012

    No, I’m not dead yet in spite of all the running, maybe an exception to the rule?
    Actually at the moment I am participating in a study at McGill University in Montreal to assess whether exercise in beneficial for both physical and mental ability for people over 75 years old. A comparison is being made between actve and non active individuals. Will see how it turns out in due course.

    Ed Whitlock

  9. Don Young - November 29, 2012

    I read this to my wife this morning and she replied-“well, if they find out sex is bad for your heart past 50 would it change anyone’s activities?” Please don’t do this study. :)

  10. gary - November 30, 2012

    Ed; please let us know of the results once completed, I’m sure it will be very informative, but I know the outcome, you’re an amazing specimen. I’m just turning 66 and hve been a sprinter over 50 years, both as an open athlete and master’s; I’ve found that the best formula is not to over-train, have a regeneration week every 3rd or 4th week, take 3-4 weeks off at the end of the season, do alternate training, and above all, if injured back off, I have a pre-disposition to Achilles problems, I’ve learned (the hard way), when I have a flare up to back off. By the way, I do little long runs and my AM pulse is 42, so I’d love to debate the author of this article.

  11. Liz Palmer - November 30, 2012

    If running makes us die, at least we’ll die happy.

  12. Stefan Waltermann - November 30, 2012

    I believe a healthy person cannot kill him- or herself with sport. In most or almost all cases of athletes croaking you hear of underlying heart problems, high blood pressure, preexisting conditions and such. The study mentions nothing about lifestyle choices besides the high mileage, high speed running. I mean food intake, food choices, stress at work, sleeping habits … all the stuff that contributes to your health. When I ran high mileage, my resting heart rate was 31 at age 53 and I was perfectly healthy. But I had to stop extremely high mileage months because I simply could not get enough calories into my body and developed systems similar to anorexia. Believe me, that will do a trick on your heart health as my resting heart rate was under 30 with high blood pressure. I became a middle distance runner doing 40+ miles a week. Now, it less but I still run 5 x 6 minutes or 5 x 3 minutes all out with three minutes of rest or start the fall with 16 x 200 m in 40+ with 2:00 rest, cutting off one rep, 1 second and 4 seconds rest per week. Is it healthy? I know it is, as long as I have a glass of red wine in the evening. If you do everything correctly, at least according to sport science (but not to the mentioned study), you might add 8 years to your lifespan. You have to love your sport because the gain you can expect needs to be invested in training. And those 8 years added to our life will be 8 years of training, competing, traveling, BS’ing and having fun.

    I tell my doc that I run long and short distances, go through lifting sessions from hell, throw all kinds of heavy stuff around, jump on boxes, into boxes, high jump, pole vault, hurdle and such… and my doc sums it up: You might not live longer but you will die healthier. And happier, I might add. And that’s fine with me.

  13. bob - November 30, 2012

    if this were true then their would be no masters track would there? If training fast is more dangerous, than the competitive athletes would likely be dying at a much greater rate than the casual runner. So all we have to do is look at how many people compete in masters track above the age of 50. They should be dropping like flies, much quicker than the rest. And yet the bulk of them continue to not only live but compete. I cycle, and the amount of over 50 competitors is increasing significantly.Back in the 90’s there might be a dozen in a race. Now there are 40-50 of them. And they are in better shape, going faster. And they are not keeling over either.

  14. Anon - November 30, 2012

    I agree with Liz. I heard this once from Arsenio Hall: “I have a friend who said exercise is bad for your heart. I said – well one day, we’ll both be lying in a hospital bed. I’ll be dying of heart attack, and you’ll be dying of nothing …” !

  15. Bob White - November 30, 2012

    I’m enjoying reading the comments! A few of them remind me of the arguments people used to use to support smoking (“I had a grandfather who smoked like a chimney and lived to be 95, so that research is bunk!”). Some of them point out important factors – some people have a genetic makeup that either allows them to push far beyond what most of us can do safely, and some have a genetic makeup that puts them in danger when they push too hard. Here’s another article that refers to several studies with similar findings: http://health.yahoo.net/experts/dayinhealth/running-may-be-harmful-your-heart.

    This is good science, guys. I think it tells us that if you push too far too hard AND you have a genetic predisposition, it can kill you rather than make you healthier. But for most people, if your genes are OK and you don’t do extreme stuff, you’ll be fine, and all the healthier for having done it. That’s all the research is saying – not that everyone who runs long and hard will die early, anymore than everyone who smokes will get lung cancer. The research describes trends in large groups of people, not what will happen to any given individual. So Ed and Stefan and all the rest of us can keep running. As long as the workout or the competition is more about fun than winning, your heart will be fine in more ways than one.

  16. Grant Lamothe - November 30, 2012

    A similar article was in the Canadian national daily Globe and Mail yesterday. The study doesn’t seem all that scientific in that it takes a small sample size and makes tenuous comparisons. All it really could conclude is a small sampling of older people who ran more than 30 miles a week had similar mortality patterns -in very late years- to non-runners.

    And, Ed, please do let us know what they find out in that study you’re participating in at McGill about older athletes (I think you’re going to amaze those McGill guys!) Our mutual friend Olga Katenko, the 93-year-old athlete from the Vancouver area, was herself studied at McGill about two or three year ago to see what possible physiological or genetic factors could enable her to perform so well athletically at her age. What they did find out was her cell mitochondria (the cell’s energy source)were not deteriorated. In most people, apparently, cellular mitochondia deteriorate substantially after age 70 or so. So maybe we should all be taking mitochondria supplements!

  17. Steven Snow - December 1, 2012

    When reading popular articles about scientific studies, keep in mind that the researchers are most likely testing hypotheses about differences among group means. They are not really making predictions about how long any given individual will live.

  18. Bob White - December 1, 2012

    I think the message here should be – for most people regular exercise is very healthy. For a few, especially if one goes to extremes and/or has a genetic predisposition, it isn’t (see Jim Fixx’s story). Exercise, enjoy it, but get regular checkups and don’t ignore the warning signs. Just because you exercise regularly and have 8% body fat doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get a heart attack. If you take all the proper precautions and still die while running, there are worse ways to go. But it would be a shame to miss an extra 10 or 20 years of grandchildren and masters competitions and sunsets just because you thought it couldn’t happen to you because you’re in great shape.

  19. Ed Whitlock - December 1, 2012

    Olga is part of the current study at NcGill made up of 20 athletes and 20 non athletes all over 75. Each participant is subjected to a large number of tests over a one week period. Olga was better then me at lifting, but I think I beat her on VO2 max.
    The Globe article was the same WSJ article.

  20. Christa Bortignon - December 2, 2012

    Further to the Montreal study, I went together with Olga in October and two British men. Since then
    several American athletes have participated. As an additional benefit I got the doctors to sign the medical certificate required for Turin,because all the necessary tests were done.

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