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09.01.20

British Heart Foundation study shows marathon runners can expect a drop in blood pressure

Barts Health NHS Trust and University College London BHF researchers measured people’s central blood pressure and stiffness of the main artery before and after six months of training for the London Marathon.

Over the course of the study, patients’ arteries became less stiff, equal to a 4-year reduction in their ‘arterial age’ and they experienced a drop in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 4mmHg and 3mmHg, respectively. Older, slower marathon runners with a higher baseline blood pressure felt the greater benefit.

Arterial stiffening is a normal part of aging, but it also heightens cardiovascular risk in otherwise healthy individuals by contributing to increased pulse pressure and ventricular overload, which are associated with dementia and cardiovascular and kidney diseases, even in the absence of plaque in the arteries.

Blood pressure medication can modify artery stiffness in established heart disease, more cardiovascular events can occur in individuals without diagnosed high blood pressure.

The participants were assessed by using blood pressure measurements and measurements of aortic stiffness by cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging. Biological aortic age was determined from the relationship between the participants’ age and aortic stiffness at three levels of the aorta.

Dr. Charlotte Manisty from Barts Heart Centre and University College London said: “Our study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of ageing 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.”

The BHF associate medical director, Professor Metin Avkiran also gave his thoughts: “The benefits of exercise are undeniable. Keeping active reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke and cuts your chances of an early death.

“As the old mantra goes, if exercise were a pill it would be hailed as a wonder drug. Setting yourself a goal – such as training for a marathon – is a great way to stay motivated and follow through on your New Year health resolutions. But you don’t need to train for a marathon to reap the benefits.

“Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. More is usually better, but every bit counts. Even a brisk walk on your lunch break will steer you towards better heart and circulatory health.”

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