Image Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/Runners_panting.jpg
As runners, we take comfort in knowing that running can bring about a host of health benefits and increase work productivity. If we’re not running, we’re kind of missing out on a great deal, or so we thought. While researching for this article, we were quite taken aback by the different ways running can shave some years off our lives.
"This article isn’t meant to scare you into never running again. We dread going through this morbid list just as much as you do. If anything, this is a reminder to stay safe."
Runner’s Sudden Death
Yes, it’s a thing. Many of us may have heard or read in the news about a young, and seemingly healthy runner collapsing during a long-distance run and was pronounced dead soon after. No symptoms, no throbbing pain.
These cases are so hard to fathom because we usually think that marathoners are at the peak of their fitness, especially after months of training and preparation for the event.
A cardiologist at Baylor University Medical Centre in Dallas, Texas explains that the most common cause of sudden death among runners aged 20 - 30 years old is hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HCM).
This genetic abnormality results in certain areas of the heart thickening by two to three times more than normal. As such, the heart has trouble pumping blood past the thickened tissue. Also, the muscles and fibers responsible for coordinated contraction and relaxation of the heart in HCM sufferers are not working optimally.
These conditions are lethal for runners as they could result in an abnormal heart rhythm. It can escalate into a cardiac arrest when there is a low blood volume in the heart due to physical exertion or dehydration. Runners who experience cardiac arrest due to HCM are seven times less likely to survive than runners with ischemic heart diseases. Resuscitation efforts are also less effective in this case.
But before we let our running sneakers gather dust, know that sudden death is a rare occurrence. The possibility of death while doing our daily errands far outnumbers the chances of it happening when we run.
Let’s just put it out there: exercise-induced asthma is an extremely common experience among runners. Researchers studied a group of 103 runners found that 52 percent of them were affected by this condition. When we run, we put a great deal of stress on our respiratory systems, which may induce asthma-like symptoms.
The risk is worse when we train indoors, where the air quality is poor or when we’re allergic to pollen. We hate to break it to you, but this is bad news for long distance runners. They are more susceptible to exercise-induced asthma due to prolonged exposure to all the factors above. Long distance runners have to endure longer hyperventilation and inhale more irritants and allergens in the air during training and competition.
Note to self: the next time we find ourselves gasping too hard for air, take a short break to recover and oh, get an allergy test.
The one that’s caused by overheating in the body. The one that also kills 1,500 people on average in the United States, which is more than what lightning, hurricane, flood and any other weather condition can do combined. In Singapore alone, 150 people fall victim to the heat every year, though thankfully, death is a rare occurrence.
The body gains more heat under intense sun exposure, and at the same time, the high humidity makes it harder for sweat to evaporate and cool the body down. Just like any system that overheats, the body shuts down. Cue hospital emergency.
Getting Struck Down
What a rough day for runners! Even when we have taken great measures to take care of our bodies and not end up with any of the aforementioned conditions, runners could still get a fatal blow from lightning or a car.
A poll by Runner’s World shows that the road is a dangerous place for runners. The reason? We are constantly plugged in. Many still have the habit of using their phones while driving, causing them to be less alert and responsive on the road.
On the flipside, we know that runners are often “in the zone” when running. Just add noise-cancelling headphones or a blaring workout jam and disaster will be waiting to strike, literally.
Running at high speeds around blind spots and running at night when there is low visibility are also common causes of deadly collisions.
As for lightning, it kills 54 people on average each year. Hundreds more are permanently injured. Memory loss, attention deficit, muscle spasms, and depression are just some common injuries reported by victims of lightning strikes.
John Jensenius, Lightning Safety Specialist for the National Outdoor Atmospheric Administration mentions some ways in which lightning can hurt people apart from a direct strike. It can create a side-flash whereby lightning strikes a taller object and the current transfers to a nearby victim.
Lightning can also travel through the ground and enter the body at the contact point closest to the strike spot. Even though metal objects don’t attract lightning, they can transmit current and can be equally dangerous.
When you start seeing flashes of light ripping through the gloomy sky, take shelter. Because, contrary to what the motivational posters say - we cannot run as fast as lightning.
So What Now?
This article isn’t meant to scare you into never running again. We dread going through this morbid list just as much as you do. If anything, this is a reminder to stay safe. And let’s just say that we’re going to retire the phrase ‘run for your life’, at least for now.
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