Carried out by researchers at University College London and Barts Heart Centre in London, the new study looked at 138 healthy first-time marathon runners with an average age of 37 who were running in the 2016 and 2017 London Marathon. (Shutterstock/File)
If you're currently making New Year resolutions then you might want to consider adding your first marathon to your list of 2020 goals, with new research suggesting that running a marathon for the first time could bring several health benefits.
Carried out by researchers at University College London and Barts Heart Centre in London, the new study looked at 138 healthy first-time marathon runners with an average age of 37 who were running in the 2016 and 2017 London Marathon.
The researchers examined the participants before they started their training and after completing the marathon to see if there was an association between the long-distance run and age-related aortic stiffening,which is a normal part of aging but can increase cardiovascular risk in otherwise healthy individuals.
At the start of the study, the subjects were running for no more than two hours a week, and were encouraged to follow the "Beginner's Training Plan" provided by the marathon to train for the event. The plan suggests three runs per week that increase in difficulty over the 17-week period leading up to the marathon. However, participants were allowed to use alternative training plans if they preferred.
Participants were assessed six months before the marathon and within three weeks of completing it, but no earlier than one week after the marathon to avoid any acute effects of exercise. The researchers recorded blood pressure and aortic stiffness, and also calculated the participants' biological aortic age by looking at their actual age and aortic stiffness at three levels of the aorta.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggested that for first-time marathon runners, training and completing the marathon was associated with reductions in blood pressure and aortic stiffening that were equivalent to an almost four-year reduction in ‘aortic age.'
In addition, the older, slower male marathon runners with higher blood pressure at the start of the study appeared to benefit the most.
"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," said senior author Charlotte H. Manisty, MD. "Our study highlights the importance of lifestyle modifications to slow the risks associated with aging, especially as it appears to never be too late as evidenced by our older, slower runners."
"Our study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of aging on our blood vessels with real-world exercise in just six months. These benefits were observed in overall healthy individuals across a broad age range and their marathon times are suggestive of achievable exercise training in novice participants," Manisty said.
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