Perceptualand Motor Skills, 1990, 70, 661-662.

O Perceptual and Motor Skills 1990

PERCEIVED CARDIAC RISKS AND BELIEFS ABOUT HEALTH AND RUNNING I N ELITE OLDER RUNNERS ',' LEN SPERRY Medical College of Wisconsin Summary.-Beliefs about the perceived health benefits of exercise of 24 elite runners were compared on an objective measure of risk for coronary heart disease. Results showed a 4- to 6-fold increase in estimates of perceived risk as compared to the objective estimate of risk, suggesting that these runners held somewhat exaggerated beliefs about the health benef~tsof running. In addition, these beliefs remained stable over time. There is a spectrum of claims made about the health benefits of exercise ranglng from the behef chat marathon running provides immunity from heart attack (1) to the clam chat exercise mav be harmhl (81. . . No definitive clinical trials have established a causal link between exercise and immunity from cardiac or other diseases. Yet, data from several large trials suggest that habitual exercise offers some health benefits particularly altering coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors (2) and extending longevity (6). In addition, there is growing literature on health beliefs about the effects of exercise on younger nonelite runners (6). This study compares the perceived risk for developing coronary heart disease to an objective measure of dsk, and assesses other beliefs about the health benefits of exercise among elite older runners, i.e., those attaining regional or national ranking. In addition, the stabiliry of these perceived risks were examined in light of the untimely death of Jim Fixx, and the so-called "runners' myths." Fixx was a highly visible older runner, well known as a popularizer of the health benefits of running, who was in a similar situation as the subjects of chis study. Despite his running, his well publicized early death might be expected to lead to a reevaluation of health beliefs among older male runners. "Runners' mythsn refers to a set of beliefs about exercise "immunizing" a person from heart disease and other disease and reducing the need for routine medical care (4). Method.-Subjects were 24 elite male runners of an average age of 65 yr. (range 53 to 85 yr.) who had been extensively monitored on physiological and psychological variables for over a decade (8). Subjects received interview, questionnaire, and laboratory assessments to measure perceived risk for developing CHD and objective percent risk for C H D using the University of Minnesota Risk Equation. All subjects ran regularly, and none smoked, had diabetes or documented CHD. Eight were Type A (>75%) on the Jenkins Activity Schedule (5). Seven reported a family history of cardiac death. The Risk Equation for five years yielded a mean of 2.8 (range of 0.9-8.0 yr.) while for 20 yr. the mean was 15 (range of 5.4-39.0 yr.). Psychological factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, and percent body fat indicated that these runners were in excellent physical healrh. Subjects were asked to rate their chance of developing CHD on the 12-item Running and Attitude Questionnaire of which four items measured "runners' myths." Paired t tests were used to compare the sets of responses. Results.-They rated their chance of developing C H D quite low (M = 8%) compared to

'Address correspondence to Len Sperry, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, Medical P U e g e of Wisconsin, 9455 Watertown Plank Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226. The author acknowledges the support of Dorothy Knapp, Ph.D., Michael Pollock, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D. in this research.



other serious disease (27%), but rated the risk for C H D significantly greater if they did not run (48%), or if they were to stop running (31%). These runners with family hjstories of cardiac death estimated they were more likely to develop C H D than those without such a family history (t2,= 2.63, p

Perceived cardiac risks and beliefs about health and running in elite older runners.

Beliefs about the perceived health benefits of exercise of 24 elite runners were compared on an objective measure of risk for coronary heart disease. ...
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