Know your heart and body: How to participate safely in marathons, triathlons

09 Oct 2023 08:37pm
Tips and guidelines on safely pursuing endurance activities - FILEPIX
Tips and guidelines on safely pursuing endurance activities - FILEPIX

SHAH ALAM - Sudden deaths during long-distance runs, such as marathons and triathalons, are rare. Nevertheless, they often make headlines, largely due to the notion that fit runners should be at the peak of their health.

In October alone, there is at least 15 marathons and Ironman events nationwide, with hundreds, if not thousands, signing up to join in on the journey to be among the fittest Malaysians.

As an avid marathon runner, United State's Johns Hopkins cardiologist Dr Erin Michos has closely followed the research on this trending fitness activity and its effects on the heart. She said there was far more compelling evidence in favour of endurance exercise than against it.

Favourable effects on blood pressure, blood lipids, and body mass index have been reported with endurance training, and large studies show that people at higher levels of fitness are the least likely to die. However, we should always be aware of the red flags that might be detrimental to our health and take measures to ensure we are safe and prepared to face the challenge.

On Sunday, it was reported that the co-founder of the baby care service Kiddocare Sdn Bhd Muhaini Mahmud died at Sultanah Maliha Hospital, Langkawi. The 44-year old, better known as Mui, was intubated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after almost drowning during the Ironman Langkawi Malaysia triathlon championships that took place there the day prior. Langkawi police chief Assistant Commissioner Shariman Ashari was quoted saying that Muihaini and two men were rescued while participating in a swimming discipline at Pantai Kok after losing consciousness.

When participating in such events, you need know where you stand health and fit-wise to endure the process thus preparing beforehand is vital. Dr Michos has listed out a plan to help you participate safely:

Selecting Endurance activities for Optimal Heart Health

When it comes to boosting heart health, not everyone needs to tackle a marathon or triathlon, according to Dr Michos. The American Heart Association advises a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly.

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Encouragingly, a significant population study revealed that individuals engaging in physical activity three to five times beyond the recommended minimum had the best survival rates. Remarkably, those who chose to exceed the minimum amount by tenfold or more faced no adverse effects.

Prioritise a Heart-Healthy Checkup Before Hitting the Pavement

While instances of sudden death during or after a marathon are exceedingly rare, research from Johns Hopkins underscores that these incidents primarily involved individuals with pre-existing heart conditions or congenital heart issues. In essence, before embarking on a strenuous exercise routine, follow Dr Michos' lead and consult with your doctor.

Discuss your overall health, heart disease risks, and fitness objectives. Your physician should inquire about symptoms like chest pain or breathlessness, assess your family's heart disease history, check your blood pressure, and listen to your heart with a stethoscope. They can conduct the necessary tests to ensure your journey towards fitness is as safe as possible.

Gradually Increase Your Exercise Regimen

Search for a training programme that gradually builds your endurance over time, and consider starting with a 5K race. Incremental progress in mileage will minimise your risk of injury and boost your chances of sticking to your fitness plan.

Allocated Time for Post-Exercise Recovery

A study of extreme cross-country skiers partaking in 90km events showed that finishers who completed more races at a faster pace had a higher likelihood of experiencing arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) throughout their lives.

After a strenuous workout or event, it's crucial to give your body adequate time to recuperate and rejuvenate. Consult your doctor to determine the most suitable recovery strategies for you.

Fuel Your Workouts Mindfully

Burning numerous calories during an intense workout doesn't grant you permission to indulge in unhealthy food binges. Dr Michos emphasises the importance of adhering to a heart-healthy diet. Ensure your dietary intake replenishes the fluids and calories lost during your training.

Listen Closely to Your Body

During exercise, it's crucial to be aware of potential warning signs, such as chest pain, excessive shortness of breath, or unusual fatigue or difficulty completing a once-manageable workout. Consult your doctor to understand the symptoms you should monitor during and after exercise and learn the appropriate actions to take if any issues arise.