Marathon Blood Pressure
Running a marathon, or not, if your blood pressure is “outta wack” it can carry health risks that we should discuss. And since most recommendations include exercise as a preliminary treatment we need to know what we are talking about. Blood pressure is an issue no matter if you’re exercising or not. If you have high blood pressure at rest it indicates that your heart is already straining to deliver blood to your body. Add some long-distance running, and that strain automatically increases. Your heart is in danger of failing. Thus it is critical that marathoners maintain normal blood pressure.
This is not a scare article. Don’t be afraid to run, and please don’t be discouraged by this article. It’s mostly a reminder that just because you run or exercise a lot doesn’t mean you can start skipping annual physicals.
First of all, what is blood pressure? It is the force of blood being pushed through your arteries by the heart. Normal blood pressure indicates that arterial passages are clear and clean to freely deliver blood where it needs to go. If the arteries become layered with scar tissue, cholesterol deposits or plaque, the passageways narrow, and the blood pushes against arterial walls with more force. This is high blood pressure, or hypertension. The American Heart Association states that over 20 percent of the population is unaware that they even have hypertension. Of those who do know, only 69.1 percent are undergoing treatment.
Now let’s bust some ego’s and mythes. Many marathoners assume they have normal blood pressure because they exercise regularly, are not typically overweight and have high-functioning physiology. Let’s not forget, low blood pressure can also be a problem. Low blood pressure, or hypotension is a problem for some because their training and diet occasionally reduces blood pressure to the point where dizziness and fainting occur. Consider age, certain medicines and certain diseases can cause low blood pressure. That said, let’s stay on task. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is becoming a concern for runners as well.
Here are the results from Athens Medical School. The research indicated that excessive exercise such as marathoning may threaten heart health to as great a degree as does complete lack of exercise. A study of male marathoners indicated that their arteries were, over a period of years, losing elasticity and thickening in response to their extensive training. The marathoners’ aortas exhibited more stiffness than those of nonmarathoners, and their blood pressure was an average of 8 points higher. Wow! What’s that mean?
This research specifies that the arterial stiffness in marathoners is a sign that there is a certain risk of heart disease or heart attack. One thought about the stiffness is that the artery walls are being highly stressed during excessive running and become fatigued from the constant exercise. The heart performs just as it should, pumping increased amounts of blood, but the cumulative strain on the arteries affects their shape and flexibility. Makes sense, so what do we do?
High blood pressure doesn’t present any outward symptoms, so it’s good to keep an annual physical. Even if you are healthy, active, and monitor your blood pressure at home. If you already have high blood pressure, see a doctor more regularly than once a year. Just because you can run a marathon doesn’t mean you are immune to high blood pressure or to heart disease.
This doesn’t mean you need to make it to the doctors office once a week because you’re training for a marathon, you can tract your pulse. The pulse, which is also known as the resting heart rate, refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The unit of measurement is BPMs and the reading is a single number, such as 60 BPM. The AHA states that the heart beats 60 to 80 times per minute when most people are at rest, but the resting heart rate is usually lower in physically fit people. “The pulse in a runner is lower than in sedentary, out-of-shape people because a runner’s heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood to where it’s needed,” says Dr. Horwitz. “Generally, the lower the pulse, the more fit you are.”
Learn your body, your pulse, feel what is happening when you run, and when you rest. You can tell when something is wrong. As I said above, don’t be afraid to run, and don’t be discouraged by this article. It’s mostly a reminder that just because you run or exercise a lot doesn’t mean you can start skipping annual physicals.