Are you in your 40s and eager to run your first half-marathon, or are even contemplating entering into the 42 km heart-pounding endurance challenge?
Well, hold the adrenaline rush. First, take some key tests – especially related to the heart – before you hit the road with your running shoes.
In the past five years or so, feel experts, middle-aged Indians have picked up on the growing popularity of long-distance running – thanks to celebrity runners like Milind Soman – and are joining half-marathons or full races over the weekends in surging numbers.
However, a proper health screening is a must before any professional run, warn cardiologists, to rule out any underlying condition that may have serious consequences for your life.
According to Dr. Lekha Phatak, head (Cardiology) at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, running is good for the heart but middle-age people must go for a thorough cardiac check up and begin the regimen slowly.
“Nowadays, we do not guide middle-age people to run or jog. Running is good for younger people and I personally do not advise middle-aged people for long-distance running,” she told.
Anyone who has run a marathon can witness the wear and tear on his body – especially the heart.
“If a runner indulges in ‘chronic exercising,’ he or she needs to be extra cautious as it may have several damaging effects on the heart like irregular heartbeat, stiff heart muscles and building up of scar tissues on the heart,” cautions Dr Sanjat Chiwane, consultant cardiology from Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon.
It is important not to compromise on heart health while increasing endurance.
“Take a professional consultation before preparing yourself for strenuous running activities. Many studies have suggested that marathons put unusual stress on the heart; so one should not participate in it frequently,” adds Dr Chiwane.
“Those with high blood pressure, we direct them not to run or take part in any marathon,” stresses Dr. Pathak.
The best precaution is to let yourself know how much your limit is.
“Assuming that for 30 years of your life, you never exercised or led an active life and suddenly decide to go for the run. It will certainly affect your body and muscles,” explains Dr. T.S. Kler, Executive Director (Cardiac Sciences) at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre, New Delhi.
There have been several deaths – mostly of people who are in their 40s – during the long-distance run in the recent past.
In July this year, a 43-year-old man collapsed and died while running for a marathon in Borivali, Mumbai. Doctors blamed existing ailments that spiked due to exercising and sudden pressure on the organs.
In February this year, a young techie lost his life due to cardiac arrest while running the half-marathon in Bengaluru.
A senior executive in a bank suffered cardiac arrest while running the Mumbai marathon in January last year. Comatose for nine months, he finally died.
In the US last year, two runners collapsed and died near the finish lines of half-marathons while a third runner collapsed and had to be resuscitated after completing the New York City half-marathon.
A study in the past has also found the link between sudden cardiac death and marathon running. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the researchers found that marathon runners may harbour underlying and potentially lethal cardiovascular disease.
Although the risk of sudden cardiac death associated with such intense physical activity was one in 50,000, proper health screening is required to ensure that you are not that ill-fated person.
“Pre-participation medical evaluations are recommended before any strenuous sports activity to identify cardiovascular disease that has the potential to cause sudden cardiac death, stroke, angina or heart failure,” elaborates Dr S S Sibia, director of the well-known Sibia Medical Centre in Ludhiana.
Before you decide to run, tests like “ECG, treadmill, echo and a complete blood profile are required,” advises Dr Subhash Chandra, chairman (cardiology) at BLK Heart Centre in New Delhi.
“Those with abnormal lipid profile, hypertension, smokers and diabetics should be considered as having increased health risk for marathons,” adds Dr Sibia.
However, what experts recommend for a normal and healthy middle-aged person is to jog or run three km a day on five days a week.
“Sixty minutes of running is more than enough for a day. Give yourself a rest for a day in a week to calm your muscles,” stresses Dr Chiwane.
If you have made up your mind for the long-duration run, pay heed to these precautions:
First, consult the doctor to find out if your body is eligible to run marathon or not. Prepare yourself not just physically but mentally as well. Maintain your nutritional stores to keep your body fit. Take a break or two during marathons to rest your body, the experts emphasise. Keep yourself well hydrated, do not go overboard in your enthusiasm and look at the bigger picture.
Last but not the least, hire a good trainer who can give you a head start after examining your health thoroughly.