The Health of Endurance and Elite Athletes
Endurance exercise…you may hate it or you may love it, but its long term benefits are invaluable and is something that everyone should consider implementing into their workout routine. Endurance exercise greatly reduces the risk of heart disease and research from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that runners were 45% less likely to die a cardiovascular-related death and could potentially add three years to their life expectancy. The journal explained that “running, even 5 to 10 min/day and at slow speeds <6 miles/h” can mitigate risks of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association also shared that exercise after a cardiovascular malfunction can be incredibly beneficial to your health (be sure to check with your doctor before proceeding).
Despite the polarity in appeal to endurance exercise is a feeling nearly everyone knows well. Infamously known as “hitting the wall,” this swiftly occurring and painful sensation of energy depletion and fatigue is a feeling we all hope to avoid. Whether it be while in the office, exercising, or just going about your day, it’s not a great feeling. Endurance is super important, and among a slew of other benefits, it helps to sustain us through our hectic schedules, improve our sleep habits and of course, prevent cardiovascular disorders.
“In these moments when you hit the wall, it becomes really difficult to continue pushing yourself physically. The few times that I’ve fallen at the end of running races, usually when dehydrated, my legs begin feeling weak and unstable until I cross the finish line and proceed to rest on the ground. It’s like your legs are simultaneously made of bricks and jello,” explained Impala Racing Team member and former Williams College runner, Anna Harleen.
Despite their reputation for being the healthiest types of people, athletes are as susceptible to cardiac arrest as anyone else. 1 out of 126,626 runners die during a race with cardiac disease as the primary cause. On the surface, this may seem rare, but when considering how frequently athletes compete, cardiac arrest claims a staggering number of lives.
So when marathoners hit the not so seemingly hypothetical “wall,” it’s generally at about the 20-mile mark. When the mileage becomes as great as a marathon (26.2 miles), it’s far too taxing on the body to practice at distances longer than 26.2 miles. Most train no more than 20-22 miles and trust that the adrenaline and intensity from the moment will carry them to the finish line.
And around this time, something quite contradictory can happen; runners can go into cardiac arrest. The stressors from the race atmosphere and electrolyte imbalances in addition to having never continuously run such a distance are some notable contributors to cardiovascular malfunctions. These factors apply to athletes across the board: malnutrition from endurance exercise or even a stressful game long into overtime can be cause for cardiac arrest. The mileage doesn’t have to be as long as a marathon as fatigue can manifest itself at different stages of endurance exercise depending on the fitness and health of the individual. Like many injuries, cardiac arrest is swift and unexpected, but most importantly, much more frequent than commonly perceived.
Keeping an AED, or several, on venue premises is a no brainer. It is the only therapy for Sudden Cardiac Arrest, it is portable, and anyone can use it. Especially in endurance races when courses are frequently hosted in remote areas. Cardiac arrest can happen to anyone at any time. Athletes of all levels are not exempt. Treatment for SCA exists and it is simple, but there is only one method: timely CPR and AED shocks. Since therapy for cardiac arrest is time-sensitive, it is more effective to have an AED on-site rather than waste precious moments waiting for EMS aid.
Victoria Kingham, a runner for the Central Park Track Club shared why she was so grateful to have an AED where she competes:
“I didn’t understand the importance of having an AED in athletic sites until last year when I saw a professional runner collapse and go into cardiac arrest in the middle of a race. Doctors told him that were it not for the fact that the track facility had an AED, he most certainly would have died. I always assumed that a track wouldn’t need an AED; runners have healthy hearts. But now I understand that a cardiac emergency can happen to anyone and that, if it does, having an AED on hand can prevent a tragedy.”
It just makes sense; using an AED is simple and it works. Prevent sudden cardiac death by ensuring an AED is available for use at all times.