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Can Running Cause Heart Attack?

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race; it is to test the limits of the human heart!” And going by this saying should the athlete test his heart to optimum level of normal function with or without knowing underlying heart condition. Most of us are aware that exercise and running increases the life expectancy. But over exercise or repeated long distance running without knowing underlying heart condition can be detrimental to the function of the heart, thus running can cause heart attack. There is a truth behind running being one of the most effective exercises for a healthy life, which helps in various ways. However, “anything beyond limit causes dangers beyond expectations! ” Too much of running by a seasonal athlete can cause serious risks to the heart, which may induce risk of heart attack and arrythmia. In this current article we will read more about how running may cause heart attack and get to know about how much running is dangerous to the heart health.

Can Running Cause Heart Attack

Know If Running Can Cause Heart Risk: Studies Related To Running And Heart Risks!

The risk factor is being studied in athlete as well as non-athlete male as well as female individuals. If you believe in scientific data, then the following examples should be considered before you consider the vigorous and strenuous daily exercises involving running. Check out some of the studies on running or endurance exercise and heart risks presenting the facts.

  • A Swedish study explains that young men going for endurance type exercises like marathon running for several hours a week are more likely to suffer from irregular heart rhythm at a later part of their time.1
  • A German research study explains men with previous heart diseases are in increasing risk of death due to heart attacks or heart strokes with excessive high intensity exercises.2
  • A case report published in scientific journal suggests a coronary anomaly as the most likely reason for an exercise-induced myocardial infarction with ventricular fibrillation in a well-trained 48-year-old endurance athlete. 2
  • The study published in Journal of American College of Cardiology has indicated light and moderate joggers have lower mortality than sedentary non-joggers. Whereas strenuous joggers have a mortality rate not statistically different from that of the sedentary group.3

Can Healthy Running Cause Heart Attack In Non-Professional Runner:

A professional athlete who trains everyday long distance running can tolerate marathon events. A working healthy professional who does regular exercise and runs limited distance may not be able to tolerate a vigorous training for marathon race. Such individual or runners may sustain a heart attack during training or during race. On the contrary a non-professional individual who may be running a long distance regularly 2 to 4 times a week is able to sustain a cardiac stress during marathon running. Such individuals build tolerance over the period of several months and may not suffer through any cardiac risk. “Moderation in endurance exercise like the marathon running is the key for staying healthy and is risk free.” Running like any other exercise is good for a non-professional individual when done in moderate amount and not in excess. A study from 15 years of observation of 52,000 adults found that the supreme degree of survival and health was found from the people who ran less than 20 miles per week, i.e. in runs of 30 to 45 minutes for over 3-4 days at about an 8:30 to 10:00 pace. With anything beyond than this resulted in decreased benefits to health in non-professional athletes.

Can Regular Running Cause Heart Attack In Professional Marathon Runner?

Now let us know about how much of running can actually cause heart risks like stress on heart, heart scarring, heart attacks or heart strokes. Studies have found that running about 10 to 15 marathons in one year or even running about 5 marathons a year for continuous 20 years is high enough to cause the harmful effects on the heart. There are many studies and researches suggest that the several repeated marathon in shorter time interval can cause ill effect on the heart. Several recent articles and publications suggest that the damage to heart is caused from repeated and continuous excessive endurance training or long distance marathon running. Long marathon run over times causes the microischemic (lack of blood supply) changes which builds scar tissues on the heart. This can lead to a patchy myocardial fibrosis in about 12% of the marathon runners. This can also cause heart muscle stiffening or irregular heart rhythms etc.

What Happens To The Heart In Case Of Frequent And Repeated Long Distance Running?

The question is “can frequent running cause heart attack. What exactly happens to the heart when a person runs marathon or undergoes frequent long distance running?” Well! Many studies have shown that immediately after a marathon run, about 30 to 50% of the runners show an increased level of enzymes and biomarkers that are known to be released during heart attacks and are also known to be linked with heart failure. These changes are caused by microischemic changes of heart muscles. The heart pumps out about 70 ccs of blood each time it beats. During running heart beats at higher rate. Heart muscles performs additional work and need extra supply of oxygen and glucose. If the blood vessels of the heart are unable to dilate to provide additional blood then the heart muscles supplied by that blood vessels gets inadequate amount of oxygen and glucose. These changes causes ischemic (lack of blood supply) changes in heart muscle. The tiny portion of heart muscles eventually dies and condition is known as microscopic myocardial ischemia.

Studies have also found that during a marathon run, more than half of the segments in our heart lose their functions due to an enhanced inflammation and a reduced flow of blood. So the heart is in an extraordinary stress during this time. So, even if you do not end up with dying there are chances you grow with various risks to your heart which can impact you at any part of the time.

What Should Be Done By Professional And Non-Professional Runners To Avoid Heart Risks Due To Running?

In few cases the cardiac abnormalities are observed immediately after the race within the month of time. It is already known that consistent and repeated race causes microscopic heart damages. Most of the professional and non-professional athletes tolerate the vigorous exercises during practice and race. Few had cardiac evaluation before and during training. The abnormal heart function often is caused by additional stress on diseased heart, which was not diagnosed prior to training or race. The abnormal heart function and cardiac risk can be prevented by evaluting the function of the heart by cardiologist either before or during training. Such harmful evnets can be prevented by understanding the abnormalities, which can be identified by the athlete. If you want to avoid the heart risks from marathon running then all you need is to understand the following risk and benefits:

Come out of the myths on heart diseases and heart risks!

Professional and non-professional athlete must take necessary precaution to prevent heart risks. Runners must be aware of abnormal heart symptoms prior to training and during training. Absence of abnormal symptoms brings false security. Runners must be aware that symptoms may not be felt or observed in some of the heart disease though the heart is being over burdened with additional work and about to fail. Runners in few cases live in false assumptions of absence of cardiovascular disease and avoid the steps of prevention. The risks is minimized by earlier diagnosis of abnormal heart function with vigorous exercise and taking proper precautions to prevent such stressful heart condition. So here are some of the myths about heart problems and running, which should be understood and appropriate steps should be taken to prevent.

  • Chest pain and palpitations suggests possible heart attack.
  • Young people can tolerate exercise better than older patients. Heart attack is less common in younger patient.
  • Leg pains are signs of tired or fatigued leg muscles and not heart attack. Chest pain is sign of heart attack.
  • Frequent cholesterol or electrocardiogram checking is not necessary, once complete heart check up is done by a specialist.
  • Cardiac arrest is a condition diagnosed when the heart stops beating.
  • Cardiac arrythmia is diagnosed when heart beats faster and at irregular frequency.
  • Heart attack is lack of blood supply to heart muscles resulting in non-functional dead heart muscles.
  • Exercises must be totally restricted after heart attack until heart specialist allows you to resume training.

Now coming to the precautions or the necessary tips for keeping away from the risk of heart diseases due to running, we can list down some of them below.

  • Athletes or runners who participate in endurance exercises like long distance running must see cardiologist before resuming exercise or following occurrence of symptoms. The test may include MRI, CT scan, electrocardiogram and echocardiogram so as to evaluate irregular heart beats and blood supply to heart.
  • Let the primary care specialist check the heart before and after the exercise or running.
  • Break up exercises are recommended so as to provide your heart a rest. Sometime it is worth to reduce the exercise time and days in a week so as to give rest to heart.
  • It must be noted that while simply sitting at your desk, the heart pumps about 5 liters per minute, while during running or exercising it pumps up to 25 liters per minute. The exercise increases heart work when heart has to pump 3 times to 5 times more blood per minute. Such an additional work for several hours can stretch function of the heart to the verge of failure.
  • If your heart tolerance is limited then do not over train nor continue stressing heart on regular basis.
  • Have a check on your diet and lifestyle.


“The best way to shed negative energy is to run.” Running under supervision or understanding of cardiac risk may help you to achieve the optimum goal. But make sure you are not over running and not exposing the heart to higher risk. Follow the essential tips.

“The miracle is not that you have finished. It is the courage that made you start.” Do not compete with someone who is a professional runner or trained for several years. Do not try to complete marathon if you feel chest pain or heart beats (palpitation) while running. Start slow and finish sluggish if you are over middle age. You are courageous if you begin your training in later phase of your life, though you do not need to participate or finish every marathon.


  1. Wall motion abnormalities in male elite orienteers are aggravated by exercise.
    Damm S1, Andersson LG, Henriksen E, Niklasson U, Jonason T, Ahrén T, Wesslén L, Nyström-Rosander C, Rolf C, Hedenstierna G, Ringqvist I, Friman G.
    Clin Physiol. 1999 Mar;19(2):121-6.
  2. Unusual cause of exercise-induced ventricular fibrillation in a well-trained adult endurance athlete: a case report.
    Vogt S1, Koenig D, Prettin S, Pottgiesser T, Allgeier J, Dickhuth HH, Hirschmueller A.
    J Med Case Rep. 2008 Apr 23;2:120. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-2-120.
  3. Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study.
    Schnohr P1, O’Keefe JH2, Marott JL3, Lange P4, Jensen GB5.
    J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Feb 10;65(5):411-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.11.023.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 17, 2021

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