Research from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests running a marathon for the first time could have several health benefits. The study found that for first-time marathon runners, training and completion of the marathon was associated with reductions in blood pressure and aortic stiffening in healthy participants that were equivalent to a four-year reduction in vascular age, with the greatest benefits seen in older, slower male marathon runners with higher baseline blood pressure.

Arterial stiffening is a normal part of aging, but it also increases cardiovascular risk in otherwise healthy individuals by contributing to increased pulse pressure and ventricular overload, which are associated with dementia and cardiovascular and kidney diseases, even in the absence of plaque in the arteries. While blood pressure medication can modify arterial stiffness in established heart disease, more cardiovascular events occur in individuals without diagnosed high blood pressure.

Regular aerobic exercise is a lifestyle modification that has real-world implications, particularly with the growth in mass participation running as an increasingly popular form of non-prescribed exercise.

The research found training decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4 and 3 mmHg, respectively. Overall, aortic stiffness reduced with training and was most pronounced in the distal aorta with increases in distensibility–the capacity to swell with pressure–of 9%. This amounted to the equivalent of an almost four-year reduction in ‘aortic age.’ Older patients had greater changes with exercise training, with males and those running slower marathon times deriving the greatest benefit.

The study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of ageing on our blood vessels with real-world exercise in just six months. These benefits were observed in overall healthy individuals across a broad age range and their marathon times are suggestive of achievable exercise training in novice participants.

Although the study only recruited healthy participants, those with hypertension and stiffer arteries might be expected to have an even greater cardiovascular response to exercise training.

runner drinking drink water

Hyponatremia is a condition of low sodium concentration in the blood. Prolonged overhydration during exercise is the primary cause of all forms of exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) and should be avoided. The updated EAH clinical practice guidelines issued by the Wilderness Medical Society stress that individuals engaged in physical and endurance activities should drink to satisfy their thirst (known as “drink to thirst”) to avoid overhydration. The guidelines appear in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by Elsevier.

Review articles and international consensus statements have mainly focused on the incidence of EAH in organized endurance events that are conducted in the frontcountry, where medical tents and local emergency medical services are typically available on site and transport to a local hospital is readily available. However, many prolonged individual exertional activities such as backpacking, ultramarathons, and multiple-day endurance events take place in the backcountry with limited or no medical support and expectations of delayed medical evacuation.

Appropriated management of EAH depends first on correctly diagnosing the condition. The guidelines address the assessment of patients with overlapping or nonspecific signs that can make differential diagnosis challenging, for example, with heat exhaustion or exertional heat stroke.

The guidelines recommend that:

  • Appropriate education and coordination among participants, event directors, support crews, park rangers, first responders, and EMS transport personnel are essential in both prevention and management of EAH.
  • Prolonged overhydration during exercise, which is the primary risk factor in the development of all forms of EAH, should be avoided.
  • Sodium and/or salty snacks should be freely available for consumption along with the appropriate fluids, particularly in long, hot events in non-heat acclimatized persons.
  • Participants should drink enough to satisfy their thirst but avoid overdrinking.
  • Point-of-care testing should be done on at-risk, symptomatic patients, when available.
  • Oral fluids should be restricted if EAH from fluid overload is associated with mild symptoms.
  • Hypotonic fluids are contraindicated with suspected EAH.
  • The use of oral salt or hypertonic fluids may be effective in reversing moderate to severe symptoms of EAH when no IV hypertonic saline (3 percent) is available.
  • Patients should be observed for at least 60 minutes after exercise to ensure no decompensation from delayed symptomatic EAH.
  • Receiving caregivers should be alerted to the potential diagnosis of EAH and fluid management restrictions when transferring care.

EAH is generally defined as a sodium concentration of less than 135 mmol/L (135 mEq/L), with severe EAH being below 120 mEq/L. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, headache, short-term memory loss, confusion, and lethargy, altered mental status, coma, seizures, and/or respiratory distress, some of which can be confused with other medical conditions.

Poor cardiorespiratory fitness could increase your risk of a future heart attack, even if you have no symptoms of a lifestyle illness today, a new study has found.

A strong link was found between higher fitness levels and a lower risk of heart attack and angina pectoris over the nine years following the measurements that were taken in a study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG).

The study results have been published in the European Heart Journal.

Even among people who seem to be healthy, the top 25 per cent of the fittest individuals actually have only half as high a risk as the least fit 25 per cent.

Between 2006 and 2008, CERG researchers measured the cardiorespiratory fitness of 4527 men and women who participated in the HUNT3 population-based health survey in Nord-Trøndelag. None of the subjects had cardiovascular disease, cancer or high blood pressure, and most were considered to be at low risk of cardiovascular disease for the next ten years.

Nevertheless, 147 of the participants experienced heart attacks or were diagnosed with angina pectoris by 2017. These diseases signal that the coronary arteries in the heart are narrowed or completely blocked.

The researchers analysed the participants in groups based on their level of fitness in relation to others of the same age and gender. The risk proved to decline steadily as patient fitness increased. The correlation between fitness and cardiovascular risk also held after adjusting for other factors that differed between the most and least fit participants.

One of the greatest strengths of the study is that the test used maximum oxygen uptake to measure participant fitness. Earlier studies that have linked fitness level to disease risk in healthy populations have largely been based on less precise calculations of fitness, or on self-reported physical activity information.

Our body uses oxygen to drive metabolic processes that create energy for the muscles. Maximum oxygen absorption is simply the maximum amount of oxygen the body is able to absorb during physical activity. Heart, blood vessel and muscle functioning are all important for oxygen uptake.

The study suggests that even a small increase in fitness can significantly improve health. For each increase of 3.5 fitness points, the risk of heart attack or angina decreases by 15 per cent.

Even if you never get in such good shape that you can say you have optimal protection, the study shows that participants’ risk was lower the more fit they were.

To measure maximum oxygen uptake accurately, you have to breathe into a mask while running on a treadmill, where the speed increases or the incline gets steeper every minute. As you work at higher and higher intensity, your body needs more and more oxygen. The test ends when you can’t run anymore, or when measurements show that the oxygen uptake is no longer increasing even though the treadmill speed is.

But why does the fitness number mean so much for your future health?

Researchers use a treadmill and a special mask to measure a person’s maximum oxygen uptake, which is considered an important measure of fitness.

Your genes can determine how your heart rate and blood pressure respond to exercise – and may act as an early warning of future problems with your heart or blood vessels – according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

When people exercise, their heart rate and blood pressure increase. However, the magnitude of this increase is different for different people. Previous research has shown that abnormally large increases in blood pressure during exercise makes it more likely that people will suffer from future high blood pressure. Therefore understanding why people react differently to exercise is important as this can help to identify risk factors and enable early monitoring or treatment of individuals at risk.

Until now it has not been known why the response to exercise varies between different people. This new research has found that genetic differences in receptors found in skeletal muscles can contribute to this different response. Receptors are groups of specialised cells that detect changes in the environment and cause some kind of response. The scientists identified that the presence of two common genetic mutations in receptors found in skeletal muscle led to higher blood pressure during exercise compared to people who did not have them, particularly in men.

The research conducted by the University of Guelph (Canada), involved measuring heart rate and blood pressure of 200 healthy young men and women before and during exercise, plus analysing their DNA for genetic risk factors.

If you’re up there in age and feel like you can coast as a couch potato, you may want to reconsider. A new study suggests, for the first time in women over age 70, that working up a sweat can reduce the influence one’s genes have on obesity.

The message from the study is that your genetic risk for obesity is not wholly deterministic. The choices we make in our life play a large role in our health.

The study also revealed that genetic associations on BMI were strongest in sedentary postmenopausal women and weakest in women who reported high levels of recreational physical activity.

The study is significant in that, up to this point, little had been known about the effect of obesity genes later in life, particularly whether genetic predisposition can be mitigated by healthy behaviors such as physical activity, the researchers note.

It’s also one of a growing number of studies highlighting the benefits of being physically active, especially as it pertains to healthy aging.

The study was published last month in the journal Menopause.

By analyzing reported physical activity levels over time in more than 11 000 American adults, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers conclude that increasing physical activity to recommended levels over as few as six years in middle age is associated with a significantly decreased risk of heart failure, a condition that affects an estimated 5 million to 6 million Americans.

The same analysis found that as little as six years without physical activity in middle age was linked to an increased risk of the disorder.

Unlike a heart attack, in which heart muscle dies, heart failure is marked by a long-term, chronic inability of the heart to pump enough blood, or pump it hard enough, to bring needed oxygen to the body. The leading cause of hospitalizations in those over 65, the disorder’s risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and family history.

Older adults are more likely to stick with a group exercise program if they can do it with people their own age, a new University of British Columbia study has found.

Working out with peers of the same gender doesn’t seem to make a difference – it’s the age that counts.

The study points to the importance of age-targeting, but perhaps not gender-targeting, when developing these programs. The researchers knew from earlier studies that older adults prefer to exercise within their own age group. Same-gender classes do not lead to greater adherence. This is significant, as it could free facilitators from the cost of providing separate classes for each gender unnecessarily.

Age and gender groupings weren’t the only strategies researchers used to try to strengthen participants’ commitment. Participants also received custom T-shirts that identified them as members of a group and were given opportunities to socialize over coffee following class. All of this together points to the power of social connections. If you set the environment up so participants feel a sense of connection or belonging with these other people, then they’re more likely to stick with it.

Older adults worldwide are less active than they should be.

The study appears in Health Psychology.

New regulations requiring certain female athletes to medically lower their testosterone levels in order to compete internationally are based on “fatally flawed” data, according to research led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The research was published in the Asser International Sports Law Journal.

The authors have called for a retraction of the original research and asked the International Association of Athletics Federations – the global governing body for track and field – to reconsider the rule change, which affects
South African Olympic sprinter Caster Semenya and others.

“In almost any other setting of science, errors of this magnitude would lead to a paper being retracted,” said lead author Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Sports Governance at CU Boulder. “And it certainly would not be the basis for broad regulations that have a profound impact on people’s lives.”

In April 2018, the IAAF announced new regulations requiring certain female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels to take testosterone-lowering hormones if they want to continue to compete in the women’s category for the 400-meter, the 400-meter hurdles, the 800-meter, the 1,500-meter and the mile.

The rule, which applies to IAAF-sanctioned international competitions, requires that they maintain serum testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) for at least six months prior to competition. Most females have testosterone levels ranging from 1.12 to 1.79 nmol/L while the normal adult male range is 7.7 – 29.4 nmol/L. About seven in every 1,000 elite female athletes have high testosterone levels, according to IAAF.

The association had attempted to put forth similar regulations in 2011 , but that rule was thrown out when the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – the highest court for international sport – concluded in 2015 that there was a lack of evidence linking high testosterone to “a real competitive advantage” in women.

In 2017, the IAAF came back with that research, publishing a paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM), which claimed that elite women runners with the highest testosterone levels performed as much as 3 percent better than those with the lowest levels in several events.

Pielke and co-authors Erik Boye, a professor emeritus of molecular biology at the University of Oslo, and Ross Tucker, a University of Cape Town exercise physiologist, challenge those results.

“We found problematic data throughout the study and consequently, the conclusions can’t be seen as reliable,” Pielke said.

When the three tried to replicate the original findings using data from the study’s authors and publicly available results from four of the races included, they uncovered “significant anomalies and errors.”

For instance, they found performance times that were erroneously duplicated and “phantom times” that did not exist in official IAAF competition results. In addition, some athletes disqualified for doping were included in the study dataset – a fact that could confound the results.

In all, from 17 to 32 percent of the data used in the study was found to be in error. The researchers also note that IAAF researchers themselves conducted the BJSM study.

“We would not find it appropriate for cigarette companies to provide the scientific bases for the regulation of smoking, or oil companies to provide the scientific bases for regulation of fossil fuels. Sport regulation should be held to the same high standards,” they write.

The IAAF researchers did correct what they characterized as “data capture errors” and re-ran their analysis in a subsequent letter to the journal. But flaws remain in that revision, Pielke said.

The research will be at issue later this month when Pielke is expected to serve as an expert witness at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where Semenya and Athletics South Africa have brought a case against the IAAF calling the rules “discriminatory, irrational, and unjustifiable.”

Under the new regulations, those who decline to medically reduce their testosterone levels must relinquish their right to compete as females.

Originally set to take effect in November, implementation of the rules has been postponed until after the outcome of the case.

“Fundamentally, the issues that we raise with our paper are about the integrity of science in regulation,” said Pielke. “Any agency, in sport or beyond, should be expected to produce science that can withstand scrutiny and which actually supports the justification for proposed regulations. That simply did not happen here.”

(This information is based on current peer-reviewed research. I will update when there are new developments.)

As a runner, you should follow a healthy diet, not a fad diet. Also, take note that a runner’s nutritional needs are different from those of sedentary individuals. Long-distance running, and especially endurance running, increases the nutritional needs of the body. Ideally, you should have regular medical checkups to keep an eye on your nutrient levels.

Here are a few key areas of importance before a race.

Hydration

Make sure you drink water every day. Your urine is a basic indicator. It should be light yellow.

To help improve nutrition you can add some chia seeds to your water. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamins & antioxidants.

Salt is a key player in hydration. Salt losses vary greatly based on sweat rate, but many runners lose an average of one gram of sodium per litre of sweat. Hot and sweaty conditions make replenishing your fluids and sodium levels even more important. Add an extra sprinkle of salt to your dinner. Also, look for people offering something salty on the way. There will be something. You don’t need to carry salt.

Diet

Stick to your regular, healthy diet. Do not make big changes to your diet the weeks before the race. You should aim for about 5 – 8 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight per day, and 1 – 1.6 grams of protein.

Do not load your body with large amounts of carbs the night before the race. You might end up feeling bloated the next morning. Anxiety about the race can also impact digestion, adding to your discomfort.

You may want to add Rooibos tea to your diet at some point. It is a natural bronchodilator – helps you breath easier.

Tea made from Mullein flowers helps clear congestion in the lungs and soothes irritated mucous membranes. It is also an anti-inflammatory.

Nutrients

Ideally, your diet should be rich in all the essential nutrients. Have it checked from time to time. Your doctor will prescribe a supplement where necessary.

To make sure you arrive at your event well-prepared start taking a supplement 6 weeks before a major endurance event.

The key nutrients for runners are iron, vitamin B, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E.

Iron

Iron helps power a runner by providing the muscles with oxygen, without it the aerobic capacity is hampered and fatigue sets in prematurely.

The mineral is lost through sweat, and footstrike, which damages red blood cells in the feet. Vitamin C helps to retain the mineral in the body.

When you have your iron levels checked, also ask for a check on your ferritin levels. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron and releases it when needed. Ferritin binds with iron, keeping it from becoming a free radical in the body. Runners must have good ferritin levels.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B keeps your nerve and blood cells healthy and plays a role in many metabolic processes that are directly related to running performance. A deficiency results in tiredness and weakness.

Magnesium

It is well known to runners that constant cramping of the legs is often an indicator of a lack of magnesium. Among the many biochemical functions it performs in the body, energy production is of special interest to us.

Zinc

Zinc helps us process the carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and is vital for a healthy, high-performing immune system that will prevent you from getting sick. It also helps to kill bacteria and viruses should you become sick.

Vitamin E

The longer distances you run, the more vitamin E you need. Intensified exertion brought on by high mileage produces more oxidative stress. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which helps guard cells from potential damage by combating oxidation.

Preventative supplements

One of the runner’s greatest fears is falling ill before a big race. Try to avoid contact with other people as much as possible the week before your race. Stay away from public places like movies or restaurants, and especially schools and hospitals.

Runners tend to turn to preventative medicine during this time. Because we can not always be sure of the effect of these supplements on our running you should try to stick to a natural nutritional supplement which is known to be easy on the stomach. Examples are Echinaforce and Bio-Strath.

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that consuming probiotics helps in preventing stomach problems during endurance distances. Unfortunately, probiotic supplements aren’t closely regulated, which is why it is probably better to include foods like yoghurt or sauerkraut in your diet leading up to your race.

Mental Preparation

A positive attitude is an extremely important objective throughout your training. Try to put aside your unsubstained doubts and concentrate on your strengths.

When preparing for a race, visualize your approach. What will you do at a hill? How will spend your time at water tables? How will you finish?

Rest

Sleep as much as possible the week before your race – at least eight hours per night. The night before a race is often stressful, resulting in less sleep.

In the same vein; Netflix and chill is not of the menu the night before. Studies have shown that female athletes tend to perform better after a sexual encounter the night before. There is a slight, insignificant drop in performance for male athletes; there is no need for them to abstain from sex the night before.

Finally, focus on your positive experience. Nerves are normal, but take your positive training experiences to the start.