YouDocs, 5-13-14: Even marathoners susceptible to heart disease

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Q: I'm 57; I've been running marathons for 25 years and was just told I have coronary artery disease. How is that possible? -- Brad J., Columbia, Mo.

A: Your heart health depends on what you do for exercise, how you fuel your body and manage stress, and the quality of your daily environment. Stress, sugar, red meat and tobacco smoke can each overwhelm the benefits of physical activity. And while a new study shows marathon running is associated with a reduction in levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein, lousy LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, heart rate and weight, it also reveals that running marathons cannot protect you from hardening of the carotid artery associated with known cardiovascular risk factors (like red meat and added sugars) and the constant stress of super-endurance training. Many studies (reviewed in our book The RealAge Workout) show that more than two hours of nonstop physical activity overwhelms your free-radical quenching systems and can cause injury. Another recent study showed that marathon runners had MORE coronary atherosclerosis than sedentary folks!

So how did you develop heart disease? If you figured you could eat anything you wanted and just burn it off, you see now that doesn't work. Eating any of the Five Food Felons -- trans or saturated fats from four-legged animals, two-legged animal skin, palm or coconut oil; added sugar and sugar syrups; and any grain that isn't 100 percent whole -- damages vital body systems even if you're not overweight. And repeatedly exercising for more than two hours at a clip may increase calcification (stiffening) of the arteries and plaque deposits along blood vessel walls.

We suggest a more balanced routine. Don't run more than 1.5 hours at a time and 15 miles a week. Walk an extra 30-60 minutes a day; try the interval training routine outlined at sharecare.com. Do strength training two to three days a week, lose the Food Felons and take up a stress-reduction practice like mindful meditation to help quell chronic inflammation. You'll dial back to a younger RealAge and a healthier heart.

Q: I'm 61 years old, and my stepdaughter is 32. When I was her age, I was certainly in better shape than she is. It worries me. What can I do to help her? -- Michelle S., Dover, De.

A: You're observing something that's troubled us for some time. Generation X-ers are far less healthy than Baby Boomers were at the same age! They're more likely to be overweight or obese and have Type 2 diabetes. But don't pat yourself on the back: Boomers are far less healthy than their parents were at comparable ages! So, why these growing health challenges?

• The food supply has changed dramatically: Added sugar and sugar syrups are in many foods. Sweet sodas/beverages are the drink of choice.

• Most of you, from 6 to 60-plus, sit down for hour after hour in cars, at work, at school, at home in the evening and for recreation.

• Stress has increased as jobs become lower paying and harder to find -- and that's associated with weight gain, too.

So we suggest your stepdaughter and you get cooking with whole ingredients (and no Food Felons). Start by preparing lunches for work. Stand up and walk around at least five minutes every hour; every half-hour is best. Reduce TV and computer time. Aim to walk 10,000 steps a day; get two pedometers (so you are never without one) to help you stay motivated. Make sure you get seven to eight hours of sleep a night; it'll reduce stress and inflammation.

(Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.)

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