The lure and danger of the long-distance runner

New York City Marathon finish line/Getty Images/file

That’s one for the couch potatoes. Or is it?

The Pioneer Press has details today of a study involving some Minnesotans that showed participants recruited from the Twin Cities Marathon had more coronary plaque than sedentary people who were studied.

But the marathoners — men, in the study — were thinner and a lower heart rate than those who did not exercise. They were more likely to have “good” cholesterol even though many had a history of smoking.

While it doesn’t mean that exercise is bad for you by any stretch, it does raise an ongoing question: Is running a marathon in any way good for you?

The study cited another heart study in Copenhagen that showed that levels of physical activity produced a “U-shaped” curve in mortality.

Moderate levels of exercise resulted in the lowest mortality rates. But mortality rates rose at the ends of spectrum in physical activity, among those who were sedentary or who were high-volume, high-intensity runners.

“In other words, excessive running may have abolished the remarkable improvements in longevity conferred by lower doses of running,” the Minnesota plaque study authors wrote.

Sudden deaths among runners during marathons are rare — about one death in 100,000 participants, according to the plaque study.

“However, the bigger concern may be the fact that excessive exercise ultimately deprives the individual from reaping the significant longevity benefits conferred by moderate exercise,” the study said.

The study comes as more people in the United States are running marathons than ever before.

“As far as not running, are you crazy? We’re addicted,” said Timothy Zoerb, 57, of Eden Prairie, who participated in the marathon heart study.

Zoerb, who has run 37 marathons, said a heart scan showed that his coronary arteries were fine. But he said he watches what he eats, and not all runners do.

“I think there’s some kind of bravado: ‘I can do whatever I want because I’m a runner,’ ” Zoerb said.

But a marathoner from Dallas who has run more than 50 marathons says he’s had enough. “I’ve personally been woken up about it,” he said.