The marathon and you

What does marathon running do to the body?

The average runner loses 1cm in height and sweats out 6 litres of fluid – but boosts their memory!

The gruelling 26 miles of a marathon will trigger blood, sweat and tears in many runners.
But how exactly does running such a distance affect the body?

‘During a marathon and other high intensity, endurance sports the body goes through intense conditions,’ says Dr Agim Beshiri, medical director at the global healthcare company Abbott. ‘But, with the appropriate conditioning and training, the body manages to adapt and rise to the challenge. ‘For instance, some organs can withstand significant reductions of blood flow for short periods of time as the body automatically prioritises circulation to the heart, brain and muscles during a marathon.’

You’ll shrink…

The average marathon runner will be about 1cm shorter at the end of the race than when they began. This is because over time, the discs in the vertebrae compress, researchers at Swansea University found. However the height decrease is naturally reversed in about one day’s time.

You’ll lose 3lb…

Most runners will lose 2-3 pounds of body mass during the course of a marathon. An average person sweats between 0.8 to 1.4 litres per hour during exercise, according to the Boston Athletic Association. This equates to between 3.4 and 6 litres of sweat for the whole race. A new study has found marathon runners tend not to remember the gruelling pain they experience completing the 26.2 mile challenge. It comes as thousands prepare to take to the streets of London this weekend for the annual Virgin London Marathon.

Your heart will pump up to 16 litres of blood…

The heart is a pump that is made up of around a half a billion cells, explains Dr Agim Beshiri, medical director at the healthcare company Abbott. ‘Cardiac output in a normal individual at rest ranges between 4 to 6 litres per minute. ‘But during a marathon, the heart is required to pump three to four times this amount.

You’ll improve your memory…

A new study from the Salk Institute in California found the same bodily process which helps fuel the body efficiently for running is also responsible for improving memory and learning. This means marathon runners may have better memory than the average person, the reasearchers suggest.

You’ll be more attractive…

Scientists at Cambridge University recently found that people who are better at running half marathons are likely to have been exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb. This means they not only have better cardiovascular efficiency but also a strong sex drive and high sperm count – suggesting that historically they were chosen by women as more desirable mates.

Have you got text neck?

Do you spend hours hunched over your phone, checking texts, tweets and emails?

  • Slumping to look at a phone puts extra pressure on the cervical spine
  • Cervical spine is the part of the spine above the shoulders in the neck
  • Bending the head at a 60 degree angle puts adds 60lbs worth of pressure
  • At more than four stone, that is heavier than the average seven year old
  • Extra weight leads to wear and tear, back pain and could require surgery
  • Previous studies have warned bad posture leads to health problems

Do you also suffer from neck and back pain?

If so, the two may well be related. New research has found that slumping to read a text or study a selfie can put undue pressure on the neck, leading to a sore back.This is because bending the neck increases the pressure put on the spine. Bending the head at a 60 degree angle to look at a phone screen puts 60 lbs – or 27kg – worth of pressure on the cervical spine, the part of the spine above the shoulders, the study found. At more than four stone in weight, that is heavier than the average seven year old.


The extra pressure put on the neck leads to early wear and tear and the person may eventually need surgery, experts said. Led by Dr Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, researchers found the amount of force on the neck increases with the degree it is bent. Tilting the head by 45 degree adds the force of 49lbs – or 22kg – to the neck. A 30 degree neck tilt equals 40lbs – or 18kg – , while a mere 15 degrees puts an extra 27lbs – 12kg – on the spine. Writing in the study, the researchers said: ‘The weight seen by the spine dramatically increases when flexing the head forward at varying degrees.’

How to promote good posture…

  • Put a sign at eye level in front of your desk reminding yourself to gently squeeze your shoulders together and not to slump when you are sitting.
  • Smile. Positive ‘facial posture’ plays an essential part in signaling an upward lift in our mood.
  • Eating 200mg of oily fish twice a week will help to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Stretch every so often at your desk. Place your hands behind your head, squeeze your elbows together and gently movebackwards until you feel a stretch in the tight area of your upper back.
  • Persist. Retraining your muscles to keep you in an upright position can seem like hard work at first, but the more you practise, the more natural it becomes.
 The loss of the ‘natural curve’ of the cervical spine leads to increased stress on the neck, they added. They said: ‘These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration and possibly surgeries.’ The concluded: ‘While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over.’  The study will be published in the upcoming issue of journal Surgical Technology International.

According to the researchers, bad posture is when the head is tilted forward and the shoulders drop forward in a rounded position. Good posture was defined as having ears aligned with the shoulders and the shoulder blades retracted. Previous studies have linked bad posture to a number of health problems, including back pain, weight gain, constipation, heartburn, migraines, and respiratory conditions.

In September, researchers from New Zealand found slouching also has an effect on mental health, making a person depressed, angry, even killing their libido. Good posture, on the other hand, has been shown to optimise physical and mental health. Experts advise that sitting up straight allows blood and oxygen to flow freely around the body, and leads to good digestion. It can also trigger the brain to send out more happiness molecules known as endorphins into the blood, while also reducing the stress hormone cortisol.