This Week in Research: Marathons (Probably) Won’t Kill You; The Return of the Honey Bee

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Will running a marathon kill you? UnlikelyIn this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!

I have a friend whose excuse for sitting on the couch is that marathons are dangerous: “People die every year!” he likes to exclaim. “Don’t you read the news?” But, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins, the risk of dying in a marathon is just as low as it’s always been, even though the races are growing in popularity.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of marathon finishers increased by a whopping 58 percent, according to Julius Cuong Pham, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Hopkins. (Pham himself has completed three marathons.) In that same period, 28 people died during or directly after a marathon, a death rate of about .75 per 100,000 race finishers — and that’s very, very low. Of course, some populations are at a (slightly) higher risk:  half those who died were over age 45, and most were men. The cause of death for older runners was almost always heart disease; for younger runners, causes included both heart problems and hyponatremia (drinking too much water).

If you still need an excuse to stay on the couch, though, never fear — marathons are still dangerous, just in a less dramatic way. Other studies have shown that around 90 percent of people training for marathons each year will have some injury, the vast majority of those being musculoskeletal in nature.

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Remember that panic a few years back about how all the honey bees were going to die, leaving our plants and flowers unpollinated and leading quickly to the doom of the human race as we know it?  Looks like that was maybe a bit overstated — though there still is some room for worry.

According to research scientist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, 21.9 percent of honey bees in managed (that is, not-wild) colonies died last year, which is far better than the approximately 30 percent loss rate that we’ve been seeing in recent years. So, hooray! Except, according to vanEngelsdorp, in order to keep the bee population at sustainable levels, we actually need a loss rate that’s closer to 13 percent.

Some of the credit for this year’s higher survival rate might go to the warm winter we just had; this past January was the fourth-warmest January on record in the U.S. Nonetheless, about half of the commercial beekeepers who responded to vanEngelsdorp’s survey reported losses greater than 13.6 percent, the level of economic stability. “Despite intense efforts we still don’t fully understand why bees are dying at such high rates,” vanEngelsdorp says. ”It seems likely that several factors, including pesticides, parasitic mites and diseases, and nutrition problems all play a contributing role.” For all our sakes, let’s hope that this downward trend continues, since honey bees are responsible for pollinating about $15 billion worth of food each year.



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