It seems every month there's another article in the media espousing the dangers of ultra-endurance sports. It's as if authors feel a responsibility to keep the average couch potato from engaging in such activity in the name of their health -- as if the health effects of endurance exercise are somehow worse than that of inactivity.
This makes the recently published Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) study all the more refreshing. This longitudinal health study of ultramarathon runners compares the overall health of ultra runners with that of average, more sedentary adults.
Researchers found a lower incidence of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart disease, stroke, and cancer in the study participants.
Compared with self-reported data from the general population, the prevalence of virtually all chronic diseases and mental health disorders appeared lower in the ultramarathon runners.
Granted, the runners experienced more exercise-related injuries, but I'll take a greater risk of a sprained ankle over that of a chronic disease every time. Besides, that sprained ankle is also preferable to the increased risk of hemorrhoids from inactivity.
While this study looked at ultra runners it's not unrealistic to suspect similar results in other ultra-endurance athletes, although there are obviously tradeoffs from one activity to another. The risks of stress fractures with running and postural issues with cycling are just two examples.
Most of us participate in our chosen sports out of passion for them, but it's nice to know we're also doing long-term good for our bodies in the process.