We’ve all read the stories of the man who fell dead running his first marathon or the athlete who nearly crossed the finish line of his triathlon – but had a heart attack instead. Sounds alarming, but the number of deaths in endurance sports is still relatively low, according to new research by the American Heart Association.
“The 50-year-old former college athlete with known or hidden heart disease who has been sedentary for years and chooses to run a triathlon is at greatest risk,” said lead study author Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D. A few more facts: Almost half of the people who have a heart attack during a triathlon are beginners. Men are four to six times more likely to have a heart attack (and die from it) than women during an endurance event, possibly because they are older, on average, and run faster and put more strain on their heart, Franklin suggests. And half of all exercise-related cardiac events occur during the last mile of the marathon.
“It’s a great temptation to think, ‘I’m almost done, let me sprint as hard as possible and hit my best time,'” he notes. These sharp increases in heart rate and blood pressure increase the likelihood of a heart attack, either because the heart does not have adequate blood flow or plaque in the arteries can tear.
Franklin’s advice: train progressively and don’t sprint to the finish line.
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