Marathon Training Improves Blood Pressure & Arterial Health

Marathon training. The headline above is unlikely to surprise you. However, researchers at University College London, found that just six months of training for a first marathon, resulted in an aorta (the main artery from the heart) with a flexibility equivalent to that of someone four years younger. The greatest benefits were reaped by older, slower, male marathon runners with higher baseline blood pressure.

The researchers selected 138 healthy, first-time marathon runners, mean age 37, from the 2016 and 2017 London Marathon. They examined the participants before training and after marathon completion to determine whether age-related aortic stiffening would be reversible with real-world exercise training. Assessments included blood pressure, and aortic stiffness by cardiovascular MRI. Training schedules equated to between 6 and 13 miles per week.

Training decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4 and 3 mmHg respectively. Aortic stiffness reduced with training, with increases in distensibility of up to 9%. This amounted to the equivalent of an almost four-year reduction in ‘aortic age’. Older patients had greater changes, with males and those running slower marathon times deriving greatest benefit.

Dr Charlotte Manisty of the UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science & Barts Heart Centre said, “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.”

(Marathon running makes arteries younger and lowers blood pressure. UCL News, accessed online 8 January 2020.
Training for a First-Time Marathon Reverses Age-Related Aortic Stiffening. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, January 2020.)