A recent study has found that training for a marathon can undo some of the cardiovascular effects of aging.
As we age, time gradually takes its toll on the body. Many of us develop the need for reading glasses, our joints feel achier, and our memory maybe is not as sharp as it once was.
Aging also naturally affects the heart, causing what’s known as aortic stiffness, or a hardening of the arteries and blood vessels that can lead to higher blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease — even for people who are otherwise in good health. Aortic stiffness has been linked to a number of health conditions, from a higher risk of stroke and heart failure to dementia and kidney problems.
However, a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that training for a marathon can be a good way to steadily improve heart health — and can actually reduce your vascular age.
Training Essentially Gave Participants a Younger Heart
The study was designed around a six-month marathon training program that built up the endurance of novice runners by gradually increasing their weekly mileage, with the intended aim of testing whether real-world training has an effect on aortic stiffness.
The study found that the marathon training program essentially reversed the aging processes that occur in the arteries and blood vessels, with all participants, who were between the ages of 21 to 69, showing an average improvement of four years’ reduction in heart age. The effect was noticed to a far greater degree in the older participants who were slower runners, and even low-intensity exercise was found to reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness.
Other researchers have responded to the study, pointing out that the anti-aging benefits that it documented might not be due to a one-time marathon-specific training period so much as how the training program acclimated the participant group to regular, moderate-intensity exercise. Each week during the training program, participants ran between 6 and 13 miles, distances that can easily be reached by runners who are not training for marathons.
Finding the Right Heart-Healthy Approach for You
If you are concerned about your heart health, you should talk to your doctor about how to safely start a new exercise regimen based on your current health and potential risk factors. The benefits of exercise have long been documented, but sometimes marathon training — or even running shorter distances — is not the right option. For instance, people with joint or heart issues might actually do themselves more harm than good by taking up running before consulting a healthcare provider — other options like cycling, swimming, and walking are excellent ways to be physically active that tend to be easier on the body.
The current federal physical activity guidelines suggest that adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, a number based on the body of evidence that has found that even 30 minutes of daily exercise can boost health and well-being while reducing the risk of a number of diseases and conditions.
There is even evidence that people currently living with heart disease can improve their heart health with regular exercise. Studies have also found that exercise has a positive effect for those who experience anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or sleep disorders.
Your Heart and You
At Tri-City Cardiology, our teams of expertly trained specialists are ready, able, and prepared to help you become and stay healthy. We take pride in working with each of our patients to design meal plans and exercise regimens that put them on the path to success and reaching their desired lifestyle goals. Want to know more? Contact us today to schedule an appointment.