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First time marathon runners can take four years off arteries’ vascular age, study shows

Taking part in training for marathons can improve new runners’ arteries to the point of appearing four years younger than their vascular age, a new study has found.

Scientists from Barts Health NHS Trust and University College London tested 138 new runners amid preparations for the London Marathon, and concluded that across the duration of six months of training, arteries regained some of their elasticity associated with youth.

Training decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4 and 3 mmHg, respectively.

Almost 50% of the participants were male, with an average age of 37, and this was the first marathon for all of them. The most significant benefits were found in older, slower male marathon runners, with higher baseline blood pressure.

The study, first published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and funded by charities the British Heart Foundation and Cardiac Risk in the Young, and the Barts Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Centre, also found that it is feasible for the consequences of ageing on blood vessels to be reversed in six months, thanks to ‘real-world’ exercise.

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told Pulse: ‘The benefits of exercise are undeniable. Keeping active reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke and cuts your chances of an early death.

‘As the old mantra goes, if exercise were a pill it would be hailed as a wonder drug.

‘Setting yourself a goal – such as training for a marathon – is a great way to stay motivated and follow through on your new year health resolutions. But you don’t need to train for a marathon to reap the benefits.

‘Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. More is usually better, but every bit counts. Even a brisk walk on your lunch break will steer you towards better heart and circulatory health.’

Study lead Dr Charlotte Manisty said: ‘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.

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

Dr Anish Bhuva of the study emphasised that you ‘don’t have to be an elite athlete to gain the benefits from marathon running’.

Last summer, the RCGP collaborated with Sport England and the National Lottery on an ‘active practice’ toolkit to incentivise practices to promote active lifestyles.

A previous study carried out by researchers in Cambridge and Amsterdam urged GPs to advise the elderly to complete physical activity to lessen their chance of developing cardiovascular disease.


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