Contrary to the claims of the fitness community, training for a marathon, triathlon, or distance swim does not optimize human health. While you can definitely gain positive, short term health benefits from endurance training, it can – and very often does – compromise your overall health in the long run (pun intended).
I shall explain.
The fundamental fact is that the only way you can optimize your health is to optimize your gene expression. And most endurance training does not optimize gene expression.
Does this mean that you should stop training altogether, start eating junk food, and initiate a two-pack-a-day unfiltered Chesterfield habit? No…because these activities do not optimize gene expression either. You just need to look at your current exercise and eating regimen in the context of evolution.
The human animal comes hardwired with a genetic structure that responds most positively to consumption and activity patterns that mimic those of our paleolithic ancestors. Or in layman’s terms, Cro Magnon men and women didn’t survive and thrive by becoming glucose junkies as a result of having to fuel hours upon hours of high impact aerobic exercise.
While endurance training is necessary in order to effectively perform in events like marathons and triathlons, the activity and consumption patterns required during this process do not trigger optimal gene expression in the human body. In fact, in many cases endurance training triggers negative gene expression which results in such niceties as systemic inflammation, elevated stress hormone levels, and premature aging.
The key is that human health is a function of gene expression – and not of endurance training. If you wish to undertake the challenge of a marathon, triathlon, or distance swim, be sure that you’re doing it primarily for the mental and emotional benefits (personal goal/challenge, feeling of accomplishment, connection with the endurance sports community, etc.). And recognize that, while you may experience some short term health benefits to endurance training, you’d be much better off deferring to other physical activities that trigger positive gene expression over the long term.