Is Running Going to Kill Me?

There have been a few times I thought I might die while running, but I didn’t think it might literally take years off my life. A new study argues running might not be as healthy as we think

I’ve heard a lot of buzz in the last few days about this editorial in the British journal Heart that argues long-term endurance sports like running might actually damage the heart and decrease life span. If you haven't heard about this yet, here’s an article on the new studies and the editorial: Today article.


The lead author, Dr. James O’Keefe, basically argues that running farther, faster, and longer (marathons in particular) tears muscle fibers in the heart, and that those who keep it up never give their hearts time to heal… which might actually lead to an earlier death. O’Keefe recommends running no more than one hour a day at comfortable speeds and reasonable distances.


As a semi-long-distance runner (I’m working on my first half marathon), I have mixed feelings about this article. My first instinct is to scoff at it and go out for a run. I feel like couch potatoes worldwide will hold this article up as justification for their lack of exercise. “See, I told you those runners were crazy,” they’ll say. “Now pass the TV remote.”


When in fact, we know that exercise is good for you, people! Becoming a runner made exercise a part of my daily life—not just a fad diet or random trips to the gym—but created a healthier lifestyle overall. Running reduces my stress level, gets me off the couch/out of the desk chair every day, and makes me more conscious of how I fuel my body with the food I eat. Not to mention I just feel healthier, happier and more energetic after a run. I think I benefit just as much mentally and emotionally from a good run as I do physically.


On the other hand, I take my heart health pretty seriously and tearing muscle fibers in the heart? That sounds pretty scary! Heart disease runs in my family, so I’ve always seen running as a way to care for my heart, not damage it. Sure, I’ve heard running can be bad for your joints, back, etc. But kill you? That’s taking it to another level.


The article seems to argue that moderation is key for endurance sports. In general, I agree with this statement. I’m not running a marathon every weekend or anything. But running at a comfortable speed and reasonable distance? Is it just me or does that sounds like the most boring thing ever?


One of the main reasons I love running is because I love to challenge myself.  I believe in the old-fashioned principle of hard work to meet my goals—not just settling for average. Working hard to reach a new distance or shave a few minutes off my 5K time is what makes running fun! Otherwise we might as well just jump on a hamster wheel for our prescribed amount of daily exercise.


So what’s a runner to do? Personally, I’m not giving it up anytime soon. Or holding myself back to a comfortable, boring routine, either. I’ll take this article as a warning to treat my heart like I do my other muscles—keeping them healthy and strong, including rest, but not stop using them all together.