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A Study says Extreme Exercise is Bad – Grrrr….

Today I came across an article titled “Extreme Exercise Hurts the Heart, Study Finds”.  Being that I like the more extreme side of running, I quickly became frustrated and defensive (mainly with the computer because Mario wasn’t home).  Who would say such blasphemy? The article goes on to say that while exercise in moderation has its benefits, extreme exercise can “turn against you.”  I wonder what the author’s definition of extreme is?  It then goes on to say that the problem is an increase in the enzyme troponin.  Apparently this enzyme is released when the heart is in distress or being damaged.  Well it’s been a while since I studied my enzymes, so now I need to know…

What is this pesky enzyme troponin?  And how significant is the increase of troponin in endurance athletes?

Troponin can be defined as:

  • A globular protein complex involved in muscle contraction. It occurs with tropomyosin in the thin filaments of muscle tissue (Google)
  • A complex of three regulatory proteins that is integral to muscle contraction in skeletal and cardiac muscle, but not smooth muscle. (Wikipedia)
  • Proteins found in heart muscle that leak into the circulation during a heart attack or other heart injury. (Harvard)
  • an enzyme that may be measured in the blood. It is released by damage to the heart. (IRAD Online)

Ok, I admit, upon reading all of these definitions, it sounds a little scary.  If troponins are released when there is damage to the heart and (according to this article), there is an increase in troponins after an endurance event, does that mean I’m on my way to a heart attack?

Being that I only have a few hours to research a topic and blog about it, I clearly did not read through the hundreds of studies that are out there about troponin and exercise.  So please keep that in mind.  However I did find a few studies, and after consulting a dictionary of medical of terminology, I think I am able to understand what the studies concluded.  First, one study suggests that release of troponin and damage to the heart are not directly associated with one another.  Instead, that they are two separate phenomena.  The study also suggests that minor increases in troponin after endurance exercise may be compensatory and irreversible.  In other words, your body is trying to adapt and the cardiomyocyte membrane damage can be undone.  Another study, which was actually a study of other studies (that sounds confusing), found that there was an exercise induced release of troponin in almost half of the athletes, in particular heavier athletes.  But as many other articles and studies stated, it remains unclear whether increases of troponin were indicative of significant acute heart damage and of course, more research must be done.

As a few of my awesome Google+ friends pointed out, the article was written in simple language, without giving any background of the study.  What is the demographic of the participants?  What is the definition of extreme?  Personally, I felt like the article was meant to scare people away from endurance events.  But for me, long distance running has taught me so much about life, hard work, dedication, discipline, failure, and success.  There is no way I am going to give this up for a possible correlation.  I’ll keep running and for a lonnnnnnnnnng distance.

Happy Trails and Happy Running,


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great points, Tracie, on this study. I’ve seen it in a few places and am not quite sure what to make of it. The reports I have seen on it are too general and vague to make a good decision.

    I will say, though, after running my marathon last year, I did feel like my ticker was a bit “off” for 2-3 weeks after the event. But, is that because I wasn’t trained well enough for the effort I put out in the race? Or is that because of the “act” of running a marathon? I tend to lean towards the former.

    Thanks for a great read!!

    June 6, 2012
    • Thanks Jim for the comment… Running is truly an individual sport and it does different things for different people. As you said, the study is too vague and lacking important information to draw a sound conclusion. I just hope people are able to see that and are not deterred from the great sport. I trust after you marathon last year you were able to take those few weeks to rest and relax so you could feel better. It’s when people jump back into training that they risk damaging their heart even more. Happy National Run Day!!

      June 6, 2012
  2. Sanya Krenzelok #

    I used to run the Pike’s Peak Marathon and University of Northern Colorado were conducting tests on runners and their toponin levels. I’m sure their results can be viewed and yes, the troponin levels were evident with most test subjects.

    June 13, 2012

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