Over the past ten years, the number of middle-aged runners taking part in marathons has increased, with most seeking the health benefits of a regular training regime. While some studies have shown that there is an increased risk of cardiac arrest amongst middle-aged men when running a marathon, little is known about the effects of training on heart health, particularly amongst those who are recreational runners.
The research was carried out on 45 recreational male runners between the age of 35 and 65, who had signed up to run the 2013 Boston Marathon. Almost half of the participants had previously run three or more marathons and the other half had run two or less. The 45 men were asked to participate in an 18 week training programme which included a training guide, nutrition tips, endurance training and group runs. The men were instructed to run 12 to 36 miles every week and gave running logs to the researchers.
The men went through a medical examination prior to the training that included cholesterol screening and heart imaging studies and just over half of the participants had at least one cardiovascular risk factor such as high blood pressure or a history of heart disease in their family. The participants were then tested again at the end of the training programme before they ran the marathon.
It was found that the 18 week training programme had led to significant changes in the participant’s heart health. “Bad” cholesterol was reduced, there was a decrease in BMI and an increase in oxygen consumption. The lead investigator, Jodi L. Zilinski M.D., reported that each of the men had experienced “cardiac remodelling”, where the structure, function and size of the heart had all improved.
Zilinski said that even the relatively healthy participants had showed improvements and that the study further demonstrates that regular exercise improves risk factors for heart disease.
Author: Fiona McBennett