“First-time marathon runners can ‘reverse ageing’ on blood vessels by four years,” reports the Daily Mirror.
The headline follows a UK study that recruited 138 healthy adults with no previous marathon experience. The participants then spent 6 months training for the London Marathon.
At the start of the study, researchers used a type of heart scan that measures the stiffness of the aorta – the major artery that takes blood from the heart to supply the rest of the body.
Increased artery stiffness is linked with increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s also considered to be a sign of ageing. The researchers repeated these scans after the participants completed their first marathon.
The study found that training was associated with decreased stiffness of the aorta. This was calculated to be the equivalent of up to 4 years’ decrease in the “biological age” of the blood vessel. The effect seemed to be greater in:
- older participants who had stiffer arteries to start with
- those with slower marathon running times
It’s worth noting that we do not know the health outcomes of the participants in the longer term, so we do not know if the decreased artery stiffness definitely translated into improved heart health and longevity. However, we do know that regular physical activity boosts health.
Running is not for everyone, and just over half of the people who signed up completed the study. Other forms of exercise such as cycling, swimming or walking may be just as beneficial. The important thing is to do regular physical activity in line with current recommendations.
If you are planning to get fit for the new year, running a marathon may be a little too ambitious as your first exercise goal. Other ways you can gradually increase your fitness levels include running shorter distances, swimming and cycling.