Marathon Training Might Boost Heart Health

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THURSDAY, March 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Marathon training may be a good way for middle-aged men to reduce their risk of heart problems, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that preparing for a marathon -- a 26.2-mile run -- reduced heart disease risk factors among 45 men, aged 35 to 65, who were recreational runners planning to run the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Just over half the men had at least one heart risk factor such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a family history of the disease. They were evaluated before and after their 18-week training program, which included group runs, endurance training, exercise tips and regular coaching. Overall, the men ran 12 to 36 miles each week, depending on the stage of training.

After completing training, the men had a 5 percent drop in bad cholesterol, a 4 percent decrease in total cholesterol, a 15 percent decline in triglycerides and a 1 percent fall in body-mass index (an estimate of body fat based on height and weight). Peak oxygen consumption, a measurement of heart-lung fitness, also declined by 4 percent, the researchers said.

The study is scheduled for presentation at this week's annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, in Washington, D.C.

"We chose charity runners because we wanted to focus on the non-elite type of runner, just the average Joe who decides to get out there and train for a marathon," lead investigator Dr. Jodi Zilinski, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a college news release.

"They turned out to be a healthier population than we expected with a lot of them already exercising on a pretty regular basis, but they were still nowhere near the levels of elite runners," Zilinksi said.

Overall, the men showed improvements in the size, shape, structure and function of the heart after they completed the marathon training. The findings show the potential for regular exercise to improve heart health, but people should always consult their doctor before beginning an exercise program, Zilinski said.

Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.