Yesterday, as I sat in my office before class, I was treated to a conversation between two other instructors (teachers, especially college professors, love to talk, and I don't think they necessarily care who's listening, they just want to talk) about health and fitness. Many college instructors are not authorities on everything, but you wouldn't know it by listening to them speak, so I had a chuckle while listening to these two converse about the dangers of exercising too much.
Their conversation consisted of something like this part way through: "I had a friend whose husband was in great shape, ate well, took good care of himself, and one day he had a massive heart attack while on his rowing machine. He was 48. And my other friend has drank and smoked for more than fifty years, and she's never had a health complaint, so I think it's all just predestined."
"True, true," replied the other instructor, "but was your friend who died on the rowing machine an obsessive exerciser? Because you know, that can kill you just as easily as anything else."
"No, he wasn't obsessive, just took good care of himself, but I know what you mean about these crazies who are triathletes or marathoners. You know they've done studies and found how that much running can actually damage your health: Those athletes have heart abnormalities, and have higher incidences of bone cancer (because of the impact, she explained), and they also have breathing problems."
"Oh I know," replied her friend, "they're obsessive and that adds stress, and that's why so many of them have heart attacks at early ages. They're all crazies."
It went on from there, but I had to get to class. I was smiling to myself though because I've been hearing things like this forever. I remember when I ran in high school, my neighbor told me that her mother, a nurse, had forbade her from running in gym class because it was damaging to the ovaries.
Now, there's no doubt that running is hard on your body: Many suffer from joint aches, lower back pain, and, sometimes, shin splints from the impact (I've never read a shred of evidence that it's damaging to the ovaries). But with as far as proper shoes have come, many runners don't suffer the same sorts of injuries that runners twenty years ago had. And yes, there was actually some truth to the statement that runners develop heart abnormalities; in fact, there was an article in the last RW about it; it's not necessarily a bad thing -- the heart just gets worked differently from someone who is inactive.
And while some marathoners might die of heart attacks, that's a risk we face sitting at home on the couch. Most modern physicians and health experts have only good things to say about running and its added benefits (same for other forms of strenous exercise, like swimming or biking), and while some runners might have a heart attack at 48 (you can't outrun genetic dispositions, and certainly if you have a family history of heart disease, you run -- no pun intended -- a greater risk of having heart problems, but research has also shown that exercise and proper diet can prevent even genetic propensities), there are many stories of octogenarians running marathons and attributing their long life span to their lifelong habit of running.
In the end, the overheard conversation opened my eyes to how people view runners, and it's something I haven't had a window into in awhile. So, careful out there, you "obsessive runners"!