Why To Exercise Today But Maybe Not Run A Marathon

crowded marathon runners



Vast mountains of research suggest that exercise is the closest thing we have to a magic pill. But maybe, as with other pills, it’s better to take one than fifty.

In case you missed it, WBUR’s sports expert extraordinaire Bill Littlefield aired a provocative segment this weekend on the apparent ill effects for older athletes of overdoing the exercise. The full post is here; it begins:

Recent medical studies suggest that ambitious exercise after a certain age makes athletes more susceptible to the very ailments they’re trying to avoid. The Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Helliker summarized those studies in his recent article, “One Running Shoe in the Grave.’  Hellicker joined Bill to discuss how older athletes should respond to the latest research.

BL: Your story begins with the assertion that for older athletes “running can take a toll on the heart that essentially eliminates the benefits of exercise.” Define “older athletes.”

KH: Well, I don’t know so much that it is the age itself of the athlete, but how long he or she has been doing it. If you have been running far and fast over a long period of time, this research suggests that you may be wearing your heart out.

BL: How much running did the researchers cited in your article determine that athletes in their 50s and 60s should do?

KH: They tend to say 20-25 miles a week. Which, as you know, for serious marathoners, for some of them, that’s one day’s worth of running. There are many runners out there who do between 20 and 50. And you’re in Boston, I mean, Boston’s ground zero for distance running in America, right?

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  • Tom

    Seems to make sense but check out Alex Hutchinson’s comments before you change your running habits.

    ” What this means is that they used statistical methods to effectively “equalize” everyone’s weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on. But this is absurd when you think about it. Why do we think running is good for health? In part because it plays a role in reducing weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on (for more details on how this distorts the results, including evidence from other studies on how these statistical tricks hide real health benefits from much higher amounts of running, see my earlier blog entry). They’re effectively saying, “If we ignore the known health benefits of greater amounts of aerobic exercise, then greater amounts of aerobic exercise don’t have any health benefits.” ”


  • Reasonable?

    Excercise is a hormetic stresser. By challenging the body, hormones and genes are acivated that promote strength and resistance to other challenges.

    But too much can be harmful…..long distance running exposes the body to a high amount of oxidative stress…..that’s the same kind of stress than can precipitate diseasess like heart disease an cancer.

    there is a tipping point, but we don’t know where it is for each individual.

    Always remember that the first person to complete a marathon died upon completing his run (according to ancient Greek history).

    In fact Marathon running was NOT an Olympic event for the ancients.
    Maybe we should borrow some wisdom from the ancients.

    From my perspective, when ti comes to excercise short and intense is better than long and moderate.