Study Finds Going From Couch to Marathon Makes Arteries 4 Years Younger

As we age, our arteries stiffen, causing a host of health issues. Exercise is one of the best ways to combat this, and it's never too late to start.

As humans age our arteries naturally become stiffer and less flexible.

This can result in higher blood pressure and inhibited function of organs such as the brain and kidneys.

Regular exercise is one of the most potent ways to fight against this natural age-related process.

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As humans age our arteries naturally become stiffer and less flexible.

This can result in higher blood pressure and inhibited function of organs such as the brain and kidneys.

Regular exercise is one of the most potent ways to fight against this natural age-related process.

Researchers have long known that adults with a history of regular exercise have healthier arteries than those who do not.

But a new study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology decided to look at a unique subset of people—those who went from being largely sedentary to running a marathon (in this case, the London Marathon).

From the New York Times:

Researchers at University College London and other institutions decided to track the arteries of a group of people who were new to exercise, targeting first-time entrants in an upcoming London Marathon.

The researchers zeroed in on race participants who had reported on entry forms that they were newcomers to the sport and to exercise in general, rarely working out before signing up. The scientists found more than 200 of these men and women, most of them middle-aged and all sedentary, and contacted them six months before race time.

These soon-to-be marathoners agreed to visit the university's lab, completing health and fitness tests and a sophisticated scan of their aorta, designed to measure its flexibility. None of the group showed signs of heart disease or other serious health problems.

Each runner then began his or her preferred marathon-training program, with most jogging a few times a week. This training continued for six months, although some developed injuries or other concerns and dropped out. Ultimately, 136 men and women completed the race, in an average finishing time of 4.5 hours for the men and 5.5 hours for the women. A week or two later, they returned to the lab to repeat the tests.

On average, the experience of training for and completing a marathon led participants to experience a decrease in central blood pressure and aortic stiffness "equivalent to a 4-year reduction in vascular age."

In other words, the participants' arteries de-aged in function by an average of about four years.

The oldest and slowest runners seemed to experience the most benefit, likely because their arteries tended to be more inflexible at the start of the study than the other participants.

This study confirmed the belief that it's never too late to start exercising, and that exercise is one of the most powerful anti-aging tools we have at our disposal.

Dr. Charlotte Manisty, a consulting cardiologist at University College London and the Barts Heart Center and one of the researchers involved with the study, told the New York Times that they were initially unsure if the arteries of older, sedentary people could benefit from exercise.

"We just didn't know how much plasticity their arteries still had," Manisty said. "(But) almost everyone benefited…and those people whose arteries needed the most help benefited the most."

Photo Credit: silkfactory/iStock

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Topics: RUNNING | HEALTH | HEALTH AND FITNESS | MARATHON TRAINING