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First time marathon runners reduce their blood pressure and arterial stiffness

First-time marathon runners who trained for and completed a marathon saw their blood pressure go down and developed more elastic arteries – equivalent to a 4-year reduction in their ‘arterial age’ – according to a study by UCL and Barts Health NHS Trust.

Researchers measured the central blood pressure and stiffness of the main artery of 138 healthy, first-time marathon runners before and after six months of training for the London Marathon, for the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Reductions in aortic stiffening equivalent to a 4-year reduction in vascular age were accompanied by a drop in runners’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 4mmHg and 3mmHg, respectively. Older, slower marathon runners with higher baseline blood pressure saw the greatest benefits.

Dr Charlotte Manisty from Barts Heart Centre and UCL said: “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. 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.”

Arterial stiffening is a normal part of aging, but it also increases cardiovascular risk in otherwise healthy individuals. While blood pressure medication can modify arterial stiffness in established heart disease, more cardiovascular events occur in individuals without diagnosed high blood pressure.

Although the study only recruited healthy participants, those with hypertension and stiffer arteries might be expected to have an even greater cardiovascular response to exercise training.

The Marathon Study was funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cardiac Risk in the Young, and the Barts Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Centre.

Read the research paper.