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Marathon training 2020: 6 tips from the American Heart Association

"Like medicine, it is possible to underdose and overdose on exercise."

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Exercising regularly and often is good for your health, this is no news. Exercising can increase your lifespan, improve brain performance, and improve your heart health.

For most, the benefits of exercise totally outweigh the risks, but for people attempting to go from couch potato to marathoner, there is a catch. Exercising without following some specific rules might be hurting your health, especially if you are a rookie.

To help you get into shape the right way, ten cardiologists at the American Heart Association share six top tips to get you on track to run a marathon — and make sure you are staying healthy while doing it.

They are:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Do a warm-up and a cool-down
  • Go slow
  • Do not sprint
  • Get used to competing
  • Do not take pain medication before the big day

Following these guidelines will help you achieve your goals and keep you healthy, the experts say. And the risks are real: Participating in lengthy endurance training or high-intensity interval training without the right kind of prep can increase your risk of a plethora of cardiac issues — and even lead to heart attack.

"Like medicine, it is possible to underdose and overdose on exercise."

The recommendations form the basis of a statement released Wednesday in the journal Circulation.

“Exercise is medicine, and there is no question that moderate to vigorous physical activity is beneficial to overall cardiovascular health,” Barry A. Franklin, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health, said in the statement.

“Like medicine, it is possible to underdose and overdose on exercise — more is not always better and can lead to cardiac events, particularly when performed by inactive, unfit, individuals with known or undiagnosed heart disease," he said.

This is especially true for men than it is for women, the cardiologists say.

To get a better sense of how the six tips can help you train better, we broke them down one-by-one so that you can make sure you're getting it right.

1. Exercise regularly

There is a lot of debate on how much exercise you need to be healthy. According to the cardiologists, the ideal amount and type of exercise is either moderate-intensity endurance exercise for at least 30 minutes a day done on 5 days each week, or high-intensity exercise (like speedy cardio circuits) for at least 20 minutes completed across 3 days each week.

2. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down

A warm-up or cool-down can be as simple as just walking slowly for a short time before starting to run. This helps “reduce the likelihood of inducing cardiac ischemia with sudden, intense physical effort and avoid decrease in central blood volume," the cardiologists say.

3. Go slow

You can't learn to run a marathon in a day. Instead, take it easy with your training at first, and build up from there, the cardiologists say.

One way to do this is to increase the amount of time you exercise for by five to ten minutes each time. Or, try walking on a level surface for 6-8 weeks, then start walking up hills, before moving on to jogging, and so forth.

“Among participants in triathlons almost 40 percent of cardiac events occurred in first-time participants,” the researchers say. Making sure you have what it takes to go the distance can help mitigate these risks.

4. Avoid sprinting

Try to keep a steady pace instead of sprinting, the cardiologists suggest. Especially if you are not used to running at pace.

“Half of cardiac events occur in the last mile of a marathon or half-marathon,” the experts say, which is also the time runners are most likely to try and sprint out the last few steps.

5. Acclimatize to where you will compete

Is your competition in the mountains? Is it going to be very humid? Paying attention to your surroundings can make all the difference. The risk of heart attacks increases at high altitudes, so if that is the case, then lower the intensity of your exercise in unusual environmental conditions to avoid strain on your heart, the cardiologists say. It may also be helpful to spend at least one day acclimatizing to wherever you will be running, so go check out where you are going to perform, and exercise there for a few days leading up to the Big Day.

6. No need to take meds before performing

Some coaches and practitioners suggest popping aspirin or other pain meds before a big competition to prevent acute cardiac events, but the American Heart Association’s extensive research suggests this is unnecessary at best. “There is insufficient evidence to recommend the routine use of either aspirin or β-blockers before strenuous physical activity or sports participation,” the cardiologists say.

Ultimately, more research is needed to work out how exactly we can transform ourselves from idle gym-avoiders to fit marathon runners. But these six tips could take some of the hidden risk out of trying to get healthy, and help you stick to your goals.

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