One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is running a marathon. However, some might find training for one to be more challenging than they bargained for. Here’s something to keep you on track for your 2020 fitness goals — according to a new study published today, new marathon runners experience reduced blood pressure and less stiff arteries, equivalent to a 4-year reduction in vascular age.
“As clinicians are meeting with patients in the new year, making a goal-oriented exercise training recommendation–such as signing up for a marathon or fun-run–may be a good motivator for our patients to keep active,” said senior author Charlotte Manisty of 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.”
Running your body backward in time
As we age, it is normal for our arteries to stiffen. As a consequence, this is closely associated with the progression of cardiovascular diseases, which represent the leading cause of death worldwide.
Blood vessels that become thicker and stiffer with age are related to changes in the connective tissue of the blood vessel wall. This makes blood pressure higher and makes the heart work harder. In time, this can lead to cardiovascular and kidney diseases, and even dementia.
However, these changes are reversible. Medication, for instance, can reduce arterial stiffness — but only in patients with established heart disease. For individuals who aren’t diagnosed with high blood pressure, intense cardiovascular activity might do the job.
Charlotte Manisty and colleagues at the University College London and Barts Heart Centre in London studied what happened to arterial stiffening in a group of 138 healthy participants who started training for their first marathon. The goal was to investigate whether age-related aortic stiffening could be reversed.
The researchers examined the eager but inexperienced participants before training and after completing the London Marathon between 2016 and 2017.
All participants followed the “Beginner’s Training Plan” provided by the marathon’s organization, which recommends going on three runs per week that become increasingly difficult over a 17-week period. Training schedules varied from six to 13 miles per week.
By the end of the marathon, the participants experienced a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 4 and 3 mmHg, respectively. The marathon training also reduced the aortic stiffness in the distal aorta by 9% — the equivalent of an almost four-year reduction in aortic age. The greatest benefits were derived by older participants and males who ran slower marathon times.
“Our study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of aging on our blood vessels with real-world exercise in just six months. These benefits were observed in overall healthy individuals across a broad age range and their marathon times are suggestive of achievable exercise training in novice participants,” Manisty said.
The findings appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.