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Age is Key in Becoming an Ultramarathon Runner

Update Date: Jan 09, 2014 03:31 PM EST

Exercise is vital in leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Several studies have found that a good amount of exercise paired with healthy eating can reduce people's risks of diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Even though physical activity is important, people should be aware of the risks involved if they put too much strain on their bodies. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of one extreme form of exercise, marathon running.

"The real key here is figuring out whether there's an upper limit for the valuable effects from exercise...," Dr. Marty Hoffman, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of California, Davis, told FOX News. Hoffman is an ultramarathon runner. "We know that moderate exercise has considerable health benefits, so then the question is, what happens if you go beyond that?"

In this study, the researchers focused on marathon running and its effects on people's overall health. They looked at a small group of ultramarathon runners, who are people who run marathons that are longer than 26.2 miles. The research team had data on 1,212 runners between the ages of 18 and 81 with half of the sample being older than 42. Around 68 percent of the runners were males. The information was collected via an online survey. The runners had participated in at least one race that was at least 31 miles long. Some of the runners reported participating in 100-mile races.

When the team compared the runners' health to the general population, they found that runners had lower incidences of illness. However, the runners had higher rates of asthma and allergies. The researchers also discovered that even ultramarathon runners end up hurting themselves by putting too much strain onto their bodies. Roughly 77 percent of the runners had an injury within the past year and 65 percent of them had to forgo at least one day of training due to an injury. The body parts that were more susceptible to injuries were the knees and feet.

The researchers found that older and more experienced runners have a smaller risk of injury whereas the majority of the injuries were concentrated in the younger age group. The researchers believe that a learning curve might explain the steady decline of injuries as the runners age.

"It's just like teenage drivers being more likely to get into an accident. There's probably some learning curve," commented Eswar Krishnan, an epidemiologist at Stanford University who is co-author of the study reported by USA Today.

Although the researches did not find any negative consequences of running, they cautioned younger runners to be more aware of their risk of injury. The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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