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Women Running Marathons: Health Risks

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Are women putting their health at risk while training and running marathons? According to research, there are no inherent health risks involved with marathon preperation and participation.

However, there are risks for those who train and run marathons primarily to lose weight. According to Elizabeth Loughren, of University of Birmingham, men were more likely to run “to see how high I can place.” Women gave reasons including, “to lose weight or “to improve my mood.” This study tested more than 900 first-time marathon runners, between the ages of 18 and 72.

Health risks develop when women use extreme training methods and lose too much weight. "It is generally not dangerous for women to train for and run in marathons, as long as proper nutrition is maintained and precautions are taken," says Michael Lu, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UCLA School of Medicine.

"The greatest potential gynecologic risks of marathon training for women, involve amenorrhea (no periods), osteoporosis, and disordered eating, in what is commonly called the female athlete triad.”

Females have significant medical risks from overtraining (especially athletes). According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMSD), some female athletes see amenorrhea as a sign of successful training. That is not the case. Missing your period can be a sign of decreased estrogen levels which can lead to osteoporosis.

Girls and women who regularly overtrain or use severe calorie restriction to lose weight are also at risk for many health problems such as bone loss, bulimia or anorexia.

According to NIAMSD, females should look for these warning signs when it comes to exercise and overtraining:

–Missed or irregular menstrual periods.

–Extreme or “unhealthy-looking” thinness.

–Extreme or rapid weight loss.

–Behaviors that reflect frequent dieting, such as eating very little, not eating in front of others, trips to the bathroom following meals, preoccupation with thinness or weight, focus on low-calorie and diet foods, possible increase in the consumption of water and other no- and low-calorie foods and beverages, possible increase in gum chewing, limiting diet to one food group, or eliminating a food group.

–Frequent intense bouts of exercise (e.g., taking an aerobics class, then running 5 miles, then swimming for an hour, followed by weight-lifting).

–An “I can’t miss a day of exercise/practice” attitude.

–An overly anxious preoccupation with an injury.

–Exercising despite illness, inclement weather, injury, and other conditions that might lead someone else to take the day off.

–An unusual amount of self-criticism or self-dissatisfaction.

–Indications of significant psychological or physical stress, including: depression, anxiety or nervousness, inability to concentrate, low levels of self-esteem, feeling cold all the time, problems sleeping, fatigue, injuries, and constantly talking about weight.

My saying is always this: Don’t wreck your body in the quest for fitness!

Mark Dilworth, BA, PES, CPT is a Certified Personal Trainer and former NCAA Division I athlete. Mark’s Fat Blaster Athletic Training System has been proven to give his clients the fit, sculpted and athletic-type bodies they want. Visit Mark’s sites:

My Fitness Hut http://myfitnesshut.blogspot.com
Her Fitness Hut http://herfitnesshut.com
Sports Fitness Hut http://sportsfitnesshut.blogspot.com

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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