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Improve Your Heart Health
Marathon training is associated with improved risk factors related to cardiovascular disease among middle-aged recreational male runners, suggesting that race preparation may be an effective strategy for reducing heart disease risk, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.
Over the last decade, marathon participation has risen steadily among middle-aged people seeking the reported health benefits of regular physical exercise. Some studies have shown that older men are significantly more at risk of cardiac arrest while running marathon races.
Researchers studied 45 recreational male runners, age 35 to 65, who were planning to run the 2013 Boston Marathon. Participants were recruited from the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge fundraising team and were not time-qualified for the Boston Marathon.
“We chose charity runners because we wanted to focus on the non-elite type of runner, just the average Joe who decides to get out there and train for a marathon,” said Jodi L. Zilinski, M.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, and lead investigator of the study. “They turned out to be a healthier population than we expected with a lot of them already exercising on a pretty regular basis, but they were still nowhere near the levels of elite runners.”
Just over half of study participants (24 of 45) had at least one cardiovascular risk factor including high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease. Participants were re-evaluated at the end of the training program prior to running the marathon.
Participation in the 18-week program led to significant overall changes in key determinants of cardiovascular risk. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol, was reduced by 5 percent; total cholesterol fell 4 percent, and triglycerides dropped 15 percent. There was also a 1 percent decrease in body mass index, and a 4 percent increase in peak oxygen consumption, a measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness, which is a potent prognostic marker of cardiovascular mortality.
“Overall, participants experienced cardiac remodeling — improvements in the size, shape, structure and function of the heart,” Zilinski said. “Even with a relatively healthy population that was not exercise naïve, our study participants still had overall improvements in key indices of heart health.”