The idea that you can run or exercise on a bad diet and not get sick isn't always real, and it can even be a contributing factor to poor general health. The initial question that comes to my mind upon reading this article . . . is it the bad diets with the high intakes of modern wheat and refined carbohydrates that caused the heart problems in the first place or is it the excessive running at certain levels of intensity? While the article did not go into detail about the dietary effects, it is most likely a combination.
Let's look more closely at the two points of contention: diet and exercise
The Bad Diet
A poor diet is bad for everyone; based on biology, it will affect everyone at some point, but some will be affected more quickly than others. So if you're a sedentary couch potato, an over-endurance competitor, or a CrossFitter who does Hero wods every day, power trains, and thrives on three meals a day, there's no reason or license to eat poorly.
Anyone who exercises at a higher intensity and more often may have higher caloric requirements. You'll need enough fuel to keep those things going, as well as repair and build. However, if the fuel is of poor quality, neither your health nor your results will be affected.
An occasional treat should not be refused to anyone, and the negative consequences should be minimal to zero in the context of a balanced diet and lifestyle. Problems occur when someone eats in this manner on a daily basis. I believe that runners' generalized poor dietary habits are a significant contributor.
Let’s look at the cardiac issues. One group of research suggests:
“heart problems may arise not in spite of extreme-endurance exercise but because of it. That has led some cardiologists to theorize that, beyond a certain point, exercise stops preventing and starts causing heart disease.”
There is a point of diminishing returns in almost all. The secret to success is finding the right amount and balance.
James O'Keefe, a Kansas City cardiologist and former triathlete who claims that long-term endurance training will damage the heart, recommends running no more than 20 miles per week at a moderate pace.
This is excellent advice, and it adheres to the dogma of consistency over quantity. Rather than the the amount of miles you run per week, increase the pace and give yourself more time to heal.
My take on this article, or the real concerns, is that the body and heart were not designed to beat at that rate for that long; combine that with a vegetarian, poorly cooked grains, and refined carbohydrate heavy diet, and you have a formula for disaster. When you add in the genetic component—some individuals are much more robust than others and can get away with it–the genetically less fortunate people are the ones who die or experience the degenerative effects.
Can exercise in fact a form of addition in some cases? The Wall Street Journal article suggests so. “Some critics say that continuing to engage in endurance athletics despite cardiac disease is evidence of addiction.” That is something I completely agree with. Many people turn to sport and exercise to help them transform or conquer obstacles in their lives. I've done it myself, and while it creates character and makes people stronger, it can quickly become addictive – I've seen it happen many times. My favorite quote on the subject is from Mark Twight, “There is a fine line between salvation and drinking poison in the jungle”. Consider it.
The following is a more straightforward and realistic takeaway from this article:
To achieve – not defeat – your goals, eat traditional whole foods cooked properly, indulge in vices sparingly, and exercise to keep the body and mind balanced.