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Healthy heart How fit should you be for a tough running race?

Falk, an actuary by profession and father of two, is a committed runner. He’s currently training for a half marathon. (Julie Hunt,

After five years of taking part in running races, Falk seems to be in very good shape. But athletes like him are often unaware of an underlying heart problem that could have catastrophic consequences.

From the age of 35, heart attacks leading to sudden death are often caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries. So runners over 35 are strongly advised to have a full medical check to test their cholesterol, blood glucose levels and blood pressure.

Falk underwent an Ergometry test with Dr Lukas Trachsel at the University Clinic for Cardiology. Dr Trachsel is a specialist in cardiovascular prevention, rehabilitation and sport medicine. The test can indirectly measure a narrowing of the coronary arteries. Some marathon organisers insist that runners carry out this test before they’re allowed to participate.

The Ergometry test also help athletes to maximise their training. It allows experts to spot in which phase ordinary athletes are concentrating their training – basic, aerobic or anaerobic endurance – and to correct the balance if necessary.

Athletes aged 12 to 35 are advised to undergo ‘pre-participation’ screening, which involves filling in a questionnaire and measuring the heartbeat while resting. This test is carried out every two years so that any coronary problems can be identified early.

These tests are designed for ordinary people taking part in competitive sport.

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