At the Heart of Running

The Heart

At the heart of running is a fragile yet strong, complex, judicious, and vital organ upon which our entire being depends. The human heart is as critical to life as air and it goes with little saying how dependent we all are on its proper functioning to live enjoyable lives. Yet it could be, that it is the least appreciated and understood of all our body organs in-so-far as how it works, how we should care for it, and even maximize its efficiency.

The Heart: How it Works

Your heart is an amazing organ. It continuously pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to sustain life. This fist-sized powerhouse beats (expands and contracts) 100,000 times per day, pumping five or six quarts of blood each minute, or about 2,000 gallons per day.

According to an article written on – How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart – on Active.com, Over time, with chronic cardio training, our resting heart rate drops because each beat delivers a bigger burst of blood, and fewer beats are needed.  This takes work off your heart and is why cardio exercise is recommended for heart health. However, cardiovascular exercise can also produce stress. If we get into over-training, we may hit a point where we are drowning in cortisol.  This eventually leads to immune-suppression and fat gain around the abdomen and face.  People who spend a significant part of their day in stress, who have poor digestion or other sources of physiological stress, should not further their stress levels by over-training.  It’s recommended that one should always think of their goals, moderate exercise if necessary, and work to reduce stress level.

As a runner, I have a deep appreciation for the role my heart plays in assisting my natural ability.  But even so, there are times I can take its steady beat for granted and cause it unease and unrest.  In this I know I am not alone.  There have been much debate and discussion about the dangers and or benefits of running, more so long distance running, on the heart.  Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist who specializes in heart disease in athletes, says most élite athletes have hearts that are enlarged by exercise.  Scary right. I’ll step out on a limb here and say that our lack of education on the issue is even scarier.  Doctors, researchers and various writers on the issue seem to believe that there is no one-size-fits-all.  There are runners who’ve run 50+ years without any incidents and then there have been the 1/ 50,000 who have met with disastrous results. For example, a recent study showed that while regular exercise does indeed benefit the heart, some experienced marathoners past the age of 50 had significant calcium deposits in their arteries, thus increasing their likelihood of suffering a heart attack.

imageCaring for The Heart

Our hearts are so complex, there remain many unknowns but what is known is that family history and dietary habits play as critical a role–if not a greater role–in heart health than exercise. This puts your own risk factors high up there on the things to look after when deciding to pursue an active lifestyle. Consider the gene factor, do you have a predisposition? Is there anything in your medical history that could contribute to an onset of any heart issue? These are just two of the many questions that you should consider.
It’s worth the time, effort and money to invest in seeing a doctor about your exercise and or running plans and have a complete check up done, which should include an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)) which is able to measure the electrical activity of the heart and in most cases would show up any abnormal activity. As with most things, this is not fool-proof and a lot is left up to you the runner to ascertain your body limits. Learn to read and listen to your body; know when it’s calling out for rest and when it needs a work out and provide it with a proper diet and nutrition thereby maximizing your chances of being an effective runner while minimizing your risks of injury or even death. The thing is, even with all the advances in technology, knowledge and medicine, no test is infallible, it’s a matter of assessing your odds and going with your gut to pursue something you love. Your chance of dying in a marathon is far slimmer than that of a car accident. That is to say, risks are inherent in everyday life, at every turn and in all impracticality, it is the risky stuff that challenges us, causes us to dare to dream and extend ourselves beyond our human limitations. The joy comes when we discover the hidden potential within and a strong and healthy heart to boot.

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