Ultramarathons, Global Warming, Coffee, and rtfMRI Therapy

I’ve been reading lots of scientific papers in the two weeks since finishing classes. Below I’ve listed some of the more interesting finds.

Also, since I’m a nice guy, I only included articles that are free to view online (except for the coffee one, which only offers a free preview).

  1. Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise (Mayo Clinic Proceedings)
    This review article made some waves in the running community when it was published last week. Although I think some of the claims might be a little overstated, it definitely serves as a word of caution for those of us who enjoy long-distance running. Key findings: “Emerging data suggest that chronic training for and competing in extreme endurance events such as marathons, ultramarathons, ironman distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle races, can cause transient acute volume overload of the atria and right ventricle, with transient reductions in right ventricular ejection fraction and elevations of cardiac biomarkers, all of which return to normal within 1 week. Over months to years of repetitive injury, this process, in some individuals, may lead to patchy myocardial fibrosis, particularly in the atria, interventricular septum, and right ventricle, creating a substrate for atrial and ventricular arrhythmias.”
  2. The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks (Nature Climate Change)
    The hypothesis: People are apathetic about climate change because they don’t understand science. The data: Those with higher degrees of science literacy and numeracy are more polarized in their opinions about climate change. As a whole, they’re slightly LESS likely to be concerned about climate change. Conclusions:  “…public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.”
  3. Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality (New England Journal of Medicine)
    This data was only published 3 weeks ago, and it’s easily the largest study on the health effects of coffee drinking that I’ve ever seen (5+ million person-years of follow-up). It’s mostly good news for those like myself who enjoy a cup (or four) of coffee each day. Key findings“…after adjustment for tobacco-smoking status and other potential confounders, there was a significant inverse association between coffee consumption and mortality.”
  4. Control Over Brain Activation and Pain Learned by Using Real-Time Functional MRI (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
    This is a slightly older article, so I might dig around to see if there have been any follow-ups. It’s a pretty neat concept, though: basically showing people real-time activation patterns in their brains and saying, “Hey! Try to…er…figure out a way to…um…change what’s going on in this area over here. It’ll make you feel better, I promise!” Key findings: “Here, we found that by using real-time functional MRI (rtfMRI) to guide training, subjects were able to learn to control activation in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), a region putatively involved in pain perception and regulation…Chronic pain patients [reported] decreases in the ongoing level of chronic pain after training.”
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13 thoughts on “Ultramarathons, Global Warming, Coffee, and rtfMRI Therapy

  1. Thanks for the interesting articles and helpful post. I have work in the healthcare field and the first study raised some interesting questions but lacks any substantial evidence to make me rethink my 100 miler in November. Unfortunately I have read similar information in some other blogs that appear to be discouraging more people from running a marathon than encouraging them to live a healthily life style. I agree caution is alway important as you mention. Have a great weekend.

    • Nice! Which 100 miler will you be running?

      I ran cross country back in high school, then got sidelined for a long time with IT band issues, and I just started running again a few months ago. I’m signed up for a trail marathon in September and a 50K in October, and I’d love to build up to some even longer races next year.

    • Matt, I’m also running a marathon in Sept and heading out West for my first Century with the Chimera 100 in Nov. I had several injuries last year and hoping to get through summer training healthy

  2. The research about ultra endurance sports is interesting. I have often wondered about the effects of high volume training for endurance sports on the body and whether it goes beyond healthy exercise. I find that serious endurance athletes often appear (to my asthetic) to look older than they actually are.

    • Re immortality, the joke is not original to me, but I can’t help pointing out that on its face, the summary statement “there was a significant inverse association between coffee consumption and mortality” seems to imply that if you drink coffee, your odds of dying go down—i.e., there’s a chance you’ll live forever!

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