Is Ultra-Endurance Training Good or Bad for Your Health

What is Endurance Sports?

An endurance sport is any activity involving physical exertion beyond the limits of one’s own body. These activities include running, cycling, swimming, rowing, hiking and other forms of outdoor recreation. They may involve long periods of time spent at high intensity (such as a marathon) or they may only last a few minutes (as in a sprint).

The term “endurance” is often used interchangeably with these sports. However, there are many different definitions of the word.

For example, some consider a marathon to be a race lasting four hours and twenty minutes; others define it as being completed within two hours and thirty minutes. Some athletes choose to compete in multiple events rather than just one marathon. Others will compete in several races over a period of time. Finally, some athletes prefer to train for longer distances while others prefer shorter ones.

In general, endurance sports require an individual to perform repetitive movements (e.g., running, biking, rowing) at high speeds for extended periods of time.

Although they do not necessarily involve heavy weights or equipment like weightlifting or crossfit workouts, they still require intense effort and stamina.

Most long-distance events involve an endurance athlete traveling a specific distance along a pre-determined path (e.g., marathon, triathlon, Ironman).

However, other events involve traveling a certain distance off of the athlete’s designated path (e.g., mountain biking, adventure racing).

All endurance events require the use of special equipment and clothing. For example, swimmers and runners may wear tight-fitting spandex suits to help reduce water drag and improve speed.

Certain events may require athletes to wear helmets, gloves, or other gear to help protect them from injury.

Endurance sports are growing in popularity. The most famous endurance events are ones that are televised (e.g., the Ironman World Championship, the Boston Marathon).

Others are gaining visibility on the internet (e.g. the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, the Primal Quest Adventure Race). However, most endurance races cannot be entered by just anyone. Some require participants to qualify by completing other races or reaching a certain age or fitness level.

In general, the greatest challenge of an endurance event is the mental aspect. Most people cannot comprehend running or biking for more than six hours at a time.

Is Ultra-Endurance Training Good or Bad for Your Health - gym fit workout

The human body also has limits on how much it can endure. Even the most experienced endurance athlete is at risk of a heart attack, heat stroke, or other life-threatening condition with overexertion.

Is Ultra-Endurance Training Good or Bad for Your Health?

The short answer: it depends.

Most endurance athletes push their bodies to the limit and experience negative side effects like weight loss, muscle atrophy, organ damage, and even death.

On the other hand, some endurance athletes train and compete in moderation and reap the benefits of improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, stress reduction, and quality of life.

In some cases, extreme endurance training can actually be dangerous for your health. For example, mountain climbers may experience altitude sickness, frostbite, and death.

Marathon runners may die from a heart attack or other physical trauma. These are extreme cases, however. Most endurance athletes limit themselves to races and training programs that match their level of skill and physical ability.

Some people use extreme endurance training as a form of self-punishment for perceived failures or sins. These people may be drawn to mountain climbing, deep-sea diving, or other potentially life-threatening hobbies.

This is problematic because they are endangering their lives needlessly and they aren’t having fun.

There’s no evidence that endurance training improves brain function or memory. It may even cause long-term damage to your vital organs (heart, lungs, brain, liver).

It can also cause serious mood swings, depression, and rage.

Sources & references used in this article:

Can intensive exercise harm the heart? The benefits of competitive endurance training for cardiovascular structure and function by BD Levine – Circulation, 2014 – Am Heart Assoc

Longer leukocyte telomeres are associated with ultra-endurance exercise independent of cardiovascular risk factors by J Denham, CP Nelson, BJ O’Brien, SA Nankervis… – PloS one, 2013 – journals.plos.org

Ultra-endurance exercise and oxidative damage by WL Knez, JS Coombes, DG Jenkins – Sports Medicine, 2006 – Springer

Is life-long exercise damaging to the heart? by MG Wilson, GP Whyte – 2012 – bjsm.bmj.com

Exercise and the heart: the good, the bad, and the ugly by S Sharma, A Merghani, L Mont – European heart journal, 2015 – academic.oup.com