-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As ultramarathons
become more popular, researchers have launched a long-term study of
the runners who participate in these extremely long races.
Keeping tabs on the runners' health and psychological makeup
could help reduce their risk of injury and reveal ways to encourage
other Americans to meet minimum levels of exercise, the researchers
An ultramarathon is defined as an event that's longer than the
standard 26.2-mile marathon. Participation in ultramarathons in
North America rose from 15,500 in 1998 to more than 63,500 in 2012,
Yet little is known about the health effects of this intense
form of physical activity, the study authors said.
To learn more, they analyzed online questionnaires completed by
more than 1,200 ultrarunners, who were asked about their training
regimens, general health and running-related injuries during the
previous 12 months. The investigators plan to follow this group of
runners for 20 years.
It came as no surprise that ultrarunners are healthier than the
average American, the researchers said. During the previous year,
ultrarunners missed an average of two days of work or school due to
illness or injury, compared with four days for people in the
general population, according to the study, which was published
Jan. 8 in the journal
Most of the ultrarunners' health care visits (64 percent) were
for exercise-related injuries. More than three-quarters of
ultrarunners had an exercise-related injury in the previous year,
and 65 percent lost at least one training day to injury. Like all
runners, most of the injuries suffered by ultrarunners involved the
knees and other parts of the legs and feet, the study found.
Injuries were more common among younger, less experienced
"It's a bit like drivers: Young drivers are at higher risk of car crashes than older people," study author Dr. Eswar Krishnan, a clinical epidemiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "Similarly, people who have recently started running are much more likely to suffer injuries than veteran ultramarathoners."
With the next questionnaire, which will be sent early this year,
the researchers hope to find out if certain types of knowledge or
adaptations help protect more experienced runners from
The researchers said they were surprised to find that 11 percent
of ultrarunners had asthma and 25 percent had allergies, while only
7 percent to 8 percent of the general population has each of these
The higher rate of allergies among ultrarunners might be because
they spend more time outdoors and have more contact with pollen and
other allergens, the researchers said. Their higher rate of asthma
might be related to allergies.
The researchers also found that 5 percent of ultrarunners were
hospitalized after a competitive event in the past year. More than
half of these hospitalizations were due to dehydration, electrolyte
disturbance or heat exhaustion, the researchers said, and about 20
percent were for fractures or dislocations.
Studying the health of ultrarunners could provide useful
information for the general population, Krishnan said.
"It will help us to understand how much exercise is optimal, how much recreational activity is appropriate and beneficial, and if there is a reason not to push your body beyond a certain point," he said.
The researchers also want to learn more about the psychology of
ultrarunners. Understanding what motivates them could prove useful
in encouraging others to meet minimum levels of exercise.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers
tips for a safe running program.
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