In recent years, the popularity of marathons has grown significantly and although the risk of dying during a marathon or soon after is extremely low - about 0.75 per 100,000 - men are two times more likely to die than women, say researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
In addition, the number of individuals to complete grueling 26.2 mile marathons in the United States increased dramatically between 2000 and 2009, from 299,018 to 473,354. The study is published online in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
Julius Cuong Pham, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of emergency medicine and anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explained:
"It's very dramatic when someone dies on the course, but it's not common. There are clearly many health benefits associated with running. It doesn't make you immune, but your risk of dying from running a marathon is very, very low."
The researchers examined statistics from around 300 marathons per year and found that between 2000 and 2009, 28 people, mostly men, died during a marathon or in the 24 hours after. Of those who died, half were over 45 years of age, and all but one in the over 45 group died due to cardiovascular disease. The cause of death among the younger runners varied considerably and included cardiac arrhythmia and hyponatremia due to excessive water consumption.
According to the researchers, the recent increase in marathon popularity is due in part to the increasing awareness of the health benefits gained from regular physical activity.
Several studies have found an association between exercise and better physical and mental health and longevity. In addition, individuals who run marathons are less likely to develop diabetes, hypertension and have high cholesterol and those who run regularly have lower rates of all-cause mortality and disability.
Pham says that he expected to find that the pace of marathons would have slowed over time due to the increase in people participating, but found that the average finishing time remained steady at around 4 hours and 35 minutes.
However, there is no easily available access to data on how many people drop out of the races without finishing, which may have artificially kept average finishing times higher.
Pham, who has ran three marathons himself, warns that marathon training or running is not risk-free. According to Pham, studies have demonstrated that up to 90% of people training for marathons each year injury themselves, with the vast majority of injuries damaging the musculoskeletal system.
Written By Grace Rattue
Copyright: Medical News Today
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