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The Toll of Exercise on the Heart (and Why You May Not Need to Worry)

from The New York Times

Does spending years running marathons or cycling for long distances potentially strain someone’s heart?

Two major new studies of athletes and their coronary arteries suggest that the answer may be a qualified yes. Both studies find that endurance athletes, especially men, who spend years training and competing show a surprisingly high incidence of plaques in their arteries, which can be a hallmark of cardiovascular disease.

But the studies also find that these plaques seem to differ somewhat in their makeup from the kinds of plaques found in less active people’s hearts and so may not be a cause for much concern.

Probably at least since Pheidippides ran the purported first marathon thousands of years ago in Greece and then promptly collapsed and died, people have wondered whether strenuous exercise is dangerous for the heart.

Other studies since have indicated that marathon runners, particularly men, seem to have a greater risk of developing plaques inside their coronary arteries than people who exercise less or not at all. Such plaques are worrisome, since if they break free from the artery walls, they can block blood flow, causing a heart attack. more

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