Marathon cuts aging of major blood vessels in first-time runners by 4 years, reducing risk for heart attacks

These runners developed more youthful, elastic arteries and showed a lower blood pressure, both of which lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, says the study.


                            Marathon cuts aging of major blood vessels in first-time runners by 4 years, reducing risk for heart attacks
(Getty Images)

First-time runners who train and run a marathon might have healthier blood vessels. With just six months of training, the first-time runners could make their arteries look four years younger, a new study has found.

These first-time runners developed more youthful, elastic arteries and showed a lower blood pressure, both of which reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, says the study. These benefits are more pronounced in older, slower male marathon runners.

"Our study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of aging on our blood vessels with real-world exercise in just six months," says senior author Dr Charlotte H Manisty from the Institute of Cardiovascular Science at University College London and Barts Heart Centre in London.

"Our study highlights the importance of lifestyle modifications to slow the risks associated with aging, especially as it appears to never be too late as evidenced by our older, slower runners," Manisty added.

Humans lose elasticity in their arteries as they age. This age-related stiffening of the arteries is linked to a higher cardiovascular risk in otherwise healthy individuals. Previous studies have suggested that arterial stiffening may be associated with the onset of stroke.

Scientists believe that lifestyle modifications like regular aerobic exercise could reverse aging to an extent. American adults aged 50-71 who exercised between two and eight hours a week from their teens through to their 60s, had a 29-36% lower chance of dying from any cause over, according to an earlier analysis.

Participants showed a decrease in blood pressure and stiffness of the arteries. (Getty Images)

Manisty and his colleagues were interested in studying whether exercise training could reverse the age-related stiffening of the arteries. So the team studied 138 healthy, first-time marathon runners, who participated in the 2016 and 2017 London Marathon.

To help the participants in their training, the research team recommended approximately three runs per week. However, these participants were allowed to follow alternative training plans as well. 

The team measured the blood pressure and aortic stiffness of participants at two different time-points: before training and after marathon completion. They then compared both the results. 

The health benefits of the training reflected on the blood vessels of these participants: they showed a decrease in blood pressure and stiffness of the arteries. The change amounted to the equivalent of an almost four-year reduction in 'aortic age’, according to the team. These health benefits may extend to those suffering from hypertension and stiffer arteries.

However, the study is an observational one. This means that the study does not clearly establish whether exercise is driving these benefits. Despite this, the study adds to the body of evidence supporting beneficial effects of exercise, says Dr Julio A Chirinos from the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote an editorial on the study.

Other approaches such as better sleep and dietary patterns, and in some instances, over-the-counter supplements, tend to interfere or interact with exercise training. Chirinos adds, "More research to identify optimal integrated training regimens is needed."

The study has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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