Many, including myself, love to take sport analogies and apply them as principles to our working habits and everyday lives.
One of the more popular analogies that we have all heard is:
“Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Although I understand the intent of this statement, the idea of living life like a marathon is crazy.
In this post we will get into the research, which will support the fact that we are better off approaching life as a series of sprints as opposed to a marathon.
The Research: Running marathons are not as “healthy” as you may think.
I am not a runner but I have friends who love the sport. To them, long distance running is an addiction that they can’t get enough of. However like all addictions, long distance running (especially marathons) has severe risks associated with them.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined the impact marathons had on veteran endurance athletes. Here are the major highlights:
- 12 veteran endurance athletes ages 50-67
- 20 non-athletes ages 52-69
- 17 younger endurance athletes ages 26-40
- 50% of the veteran endurance athletes had scar tissue in and around their heart.
- 0% of the younger endurance athletes and non-athletes had no scar tissue in and around their heart.
The most revealing part of this study said that the “effected” athletes (the 50%) were those who trained the longest and hardest.
Another study that was presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress stated that regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk by a factor of two or three. However, when extending vigorous exercise like when you are running a marathon, it elevated cardiac risk by seven-fold.
Marathon running puts an extraordinary amount of stress on your heart.
When you are running a marathon, more than half of the segments in your heart lose function. This is due to an increase in inflammation and a decrease in blood flow.
The marathon is the perfect example of the “reverse effect” – where too much of doing something that is good for you has the opposite effect.
Additional downsides of running marathons include:
- Loss of muscle
- Joint damage
- Depressed immune system
- Weaker heart
Proved by the research of Dr. Arthur Siegel and his colleagues, there is now overwhelming evidence indicating that long distance running is one of the worst forms of exercise there is.
The Research: The benefits of sprinting.
Sprinting is the most efficient way to improve cardiovascular conditioning.
When you are sprinting, certain enzymes become abundant in your body. These enzymes help your body store more calories and energy within the muscle tissue rather than the fat storages. It is through this process where your body steadily gets rid of all its fat storages that account for weight gain.
Sprinting also increases the body’s endurance strength, making long distance cardio easier to complete. Thus the reason why many marathoners incorporate sprints into their training.
Other benefits include:
- Natural growth hormone production, which results in lean muscle gain
- Strengthens your heart
- Boosts your metabolism
- The most effective cardiovascular activity to burn fat
The Research: Are we more effective living life like a marathon or a series of sprints?
Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project said:
The problem is human beings aren't meant to operate the way computers do: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. To the contrary, people perform best when they pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy - not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
The reality is most people do not maximize their productivity because they fail to strictly schedule their days with work and rest breaks.
These are the people who are living their lives like a marathon.
They do not push themselves and give their all because they think they need to conserve and distribute their effort throughout the entire day. Not only does this approach create a lot of “busy work” but it destroys productivity.
In Gregory Ciotti’s must read post The Science of Creativity, he cited a study completed by Anders Ericsson.
The results indicated that the worlds most elite violinists were not spending more time on the violin compared to their peers, but rather were engaging in more deliberate practice.
These findings were further supported by the research of Peretz Lavie on “ultradian rhythms” which stated that we are most productive when we work for 90 minutes followed by 20 minutes breaks. The reason being that this type of work schedule syncs more closely with our natural energy cycles allowing us to maintain better focus and higher energy levels throughout the day.
Although the research above helps prove the fact that life should not be approached as a marathon, I believe the best proof comes from our personal experiences.
Just think back to a time where you tried to pull off marathon like performance. Did you ever reach a point where you felt like you hit a wall and could no longer function? If not, then I would love to hear how you overcame this! However for most, this is when we bonk.
The affects that marathons and sprints have on our bodies are eerily similar to the results we will receive depending on which mentality we chose to live by: "life is a marathon" or "life is a series of sprints".
WAKE UP CALL: For your productivity and more importantly your health, I recommend you live by the latter.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the research above.
Do you agree that life should be approached as a series of sprints as opposed to a marathon?
If you enjoyed this article or have a friend who is living life like a marathon, please share this with them.