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Marathon training may reverse heart aging, study shows

Good news for first-time marathoners: training could benefit your heart health, even at very conservative levels

Good news for those considering taking on their first marathon: a recent study found that doing so could add four years to the life of your aorta.

The study by researchers in London, published in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and reported on by Athletics Weekly found that marathon training reduces “aortic stiffening,” something that happens as a result of normal aging. It looked at 138 first-time marathoners aged 21 to 69 (roughly half men and half women) and followed them as they trained for the London Marathon over a six-month period. Their aortic blood pressure and stiffness were assessed before training began and two weeks after the race.

Training was found to have reduced both systolic and diastolic aortic blood pressure and aortic stiffness equivalent to about four years of reverse aging, and those who benefitted the most were older, slower males and those with a higher baseline blood pressure.

So what exactly is aortic stiffening, you ask? It’s a feature of aging in which mechanical stress on the heart builds up over the years, causing the fibres of the arterial wall start to lose elasticity. The process is accelerated in those with high blood pressure.

RELATED: Runners’ hearts work harder than swimmers’ hearts: study

One caveat: the study subjects’ weekly mileage varied from six to 13 miles (9.6 to 21 kilometres), which, to put it mildly, strikes us as inappropriately low.

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