Stick to your training. Runners who aren’t “marathon fit” show signs that they’re putting their tickers in danger following the run, says new Canadian research.
In the study, immediately after the race nearly half of the runners had decreased heart function and signs of myocardial edema—a marker of inflammation in the heart that often relates to heart attack or arrhythmia.
What was the difference in these runners? Those who had more damaged hearts after the race also trained less (significantly fewer miles during training) and had a lower VO2 max (measure of your aerobic fitness). “You really can’t cheat the marathon,” says study author Eric Larose, M.D., about training for the race. “If you don’t train the distance, it’s going to hurt in more ways than one.”
But don’t let this scare you: The damage probably isn’t true for shorter races, and running is still great for long-term heart health, says Larose. Even more: After three months of continued running (but no marathons), all of those nasty heart problems that people had following the marathon in the study were gone. That means that there appears to be no lasting damage.
The key to keeping your heart in tip-top shape after your 26.2-mile stroll isn’t that difficult. If you stick to your training plan leading up to the race, you should be fine, but Larose also suggests some common practices to bring your body back to normal: properly hydrate and fuel during and after the race, cool down when you’re done instead of searching for the nearest pillow, and then give your body a rest for the next few days.
This article originally appeared in Men's Health US.