Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Runners Are Different

I got an x-ray a couple of weeks ago.  Not a big deal.  On top of my asthma, I had a bad cold, and I was feeling pretty miserable, so the abundance of caution thing kicked in.  No biggie.  The lungs were clear.  Nothing remarkable.

Something else was remarkable, though -- the radiologist's report.  For the last year I've been able to follow test results and trade emails with my doctor on a secure website.

My doctor got the x-ray results the same day I got the x-ray.  The online test results -- in this case the radiologist's report -- generally come along a few weeks later.  Here's what he said:  "The lungs are somewhat hyperextended and the diaphragms flattened.  This has been a persistent finding since 2004 and may be indicative of a very good inspiration."

Translation:  This guy may be a runner.  The previous report had centered on the meme "Probable COPD."  This stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

It's interesting when the very same findings can mean either you're very sick or you're in very good shape.  Bimodal distributions -- statisticians hate them.  Mean and median become meaningless.

Runners are different.  It starts in the leg muscles.  Each cell has a lot more mitochondria than exist in the leg muscles of sedentary people.  Mitochondria are the cells' little furnaces, so lots of furnaces means you need lots of fuel.  Blood volume increases dramatically, and -- as suggested above -- so does active lung volume.  I could go on -- the heart, for instance.  Resting heart rate, maximum heart rate, recovery time.  I've even read that running decreases the transit time for food in the digestive tract.

People talk about running to lose weight, look better, feel better.  All true, but just scratching the surface.

People will or won't run.  Most of them won't, and I don't think talking about increased capillarization in the gastrocnemius will ever be a strong motivator either way.

But it would be nice if the medical profession in general understood runners better.  There are more of us than there used to be.  Maybe medical schools should have Runners Are Different Day.  Specialists could go through a review of systems.  I don't think any system would be left out.  The skin, you say?  Let me talk to you about sweat glands.