Dedicated long distance runners may be facing
more serious health risks than shin splints and torn tendons.
While runners typically make sure to stretch
and keep hydrated, they may be skipping an important step in training for a long run. While they
are focused on warming up, the sun is focused on their exposed skin. Protection from the sun is
often ignored by athletes gearing up for a marathon.
According to a small pilot study published in The Archives of Dermatology, researchers in the dermatology department
of the Medical University of Graz in Austria reported that malignant melanoma is found more often
in marathon runners.
Almost all the runners in this study dressed
in running gear that left their arms, shoulders, upper back and legs exposed to the sun.
When people intend to spend time in the sun
they prepare by using a lotion that will block the harmful rays and protect their exposed skin.
Since runners don't take into account the tanning aspects of being out in the sun, only a little
more than half use sunscreen regularly.
The lead author of the report, Dr. Christina
M. Ambros-Rudolph, says, "Taking sunscreen alone is not enough as it can lose its power with sweating. It would
be important to avoid training in sun-peak hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and wear reasonable gear that
covers shoulders and upper back."
Dr. Ambros-Rudolph, said in a New York Times
interview that the pilot study had reached no conclusion about the exact increase in risk that marathoners
There is a difficulty with pinpointing the reason
for the increase in malignant melanoma. Sun exposure and suppression of the bodys immune system
due to extreme exercise stress may both be involved. Other research has found that high-intensity
training and excessive exercise can lead to lowered immune function.
Exactly why extreme exercise can lower the body's
ability to fight infection is not well understood.
Researchers speculate that intense, sustained
physical activity can cause trauma which signals the body to produce cytokines. These proteins may
focus the immune response on repairing the exercise induced trauma and reduce other immune functions.
That would explain runners' complaints of bronchial infections following marathons and the increased
risk of skin cancer.
This study involved 210 marathon runners and
a control group of 210 people who were not training for a marathon. All the participants were fair
skinned since this has been identified as a risk factor for melanoma. They were examined at the
beginning and end of the study.
About a third of the runners group trained up
to 25 miles a week, and nearly half logged 25 to 45 miles. The top 15 percent ran more than 45 miles
a week. The study reported that those who trained the most had the highest rates of skin lesions.
The researchers concluded, "They [marathon
runners] should reduce UV exposure during exercising by choosing training and competition schedules
with low sun exposure, wearing adequate clothing, and regularly using water-resistant sunscreens."
We hear a lot about sun exposure and skin
cancer, Dr Ambros-Rudolph emphasized to the New York Times reporter. But we forget
about it when participating in outdoor sports. Sunscreen alone is not the ultimate answer. Its
also important to wear reasonable gear that covers the shoulders and upper back, and to avoid training
in peak sun hours."