Genetic Heart Abnormalities: When a young and healthy runner does die while running, it's almost always due to a genetic heart abnormality called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the walls of the heart become thickened for no known reason. This condition affects 1 in 500 people. Though deaths like these often steal headlines, the risk of such an occurrence is quite low.
Heart Disease:Even if you're born without a heart condition, there's a chance you may develop one as you age. Heart disease is a broad term that describes a range of conditions that affect the heart, including clogged arteries that can cause heart attacks and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America.
If you have heart disease, you should have a conversation with your doctor before starting a running routine. However, even the American Heart Association advises that people with congenital heart disease engage in regular exercise. While they recommend talking to your doctor about your individual exercise needs, they say the best and safest types of exercise for people with genetic heart conditions are aerobic activities including light running.
It's important to note that the risk of sudden cardiac arrest is highest in individuals who make a sudden jump from couch potato to high-intensity training.To avoid injuring the heart, ease into any new workout, slowly adding miles and listening to your body.
Extreme Running Troubles: A recent study tested extreme endurance runners before and after the Race Across the USA, which, as the name eludes, has athletes running across the country from California to Maryland in 140 days. The study found that the four participants with pre-existing heart disease saw a drastic increase in plaque build-up during and after the race. The risk of plaque is that it can rupture and cause a heart attack. The study concluded that extreme running may not provide the same heart-healthy benefits that more moderate running provides.
So at the end of the day, what's the final word on running for heart health? Across the board, experts agree that low to moderate amounts of running is one of the best things you can do for your ticker. If you have a pre-existing heart condition, talk to your doctor before lacing up your running shoes, but odds are you'll be running laps around that track in no time—and your heart will thank you for it.