Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Running your first marathon will turn back your body clock–by four years


Story at a glance

  • A new study found first-time marathon runners saw a reduction in aortic stiffening and blood pressure.
  • The most significant results were seen in slower, older male runners with higher baseline blood pressure.
  • Arterial stiffening is a normal part of aging, but increases the risk of cardiovascular and kidney disease, as well as dementia.

A new year means new resolutions, and training to conquer your first marathon in 2020 might be the secret to a healthier, younger heart. 

New research published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that training for and completing a marathon, even at relatively low exercise intensity, improves the health of a new runner’s arteries, and could reverse some of the effects of aging on the body. 

Researchers found that for 138 healthy, first-time marathon runners, training over a six-month period of time for the London marathon was associated with a four-year reduction in their “vascular age.” The study’s authors discovered that marathon training reversed age-related stiffening of the body’s main arteries and reduced blood pressure. 

The study noted that with age, the walls of arteries grow thicker and stiffer, causing the heart to work harder to move blood throughout the body. This increases the risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. In the U.S., heart disease has been the leading cause of death for more than a decade, with more than 635,000 deaths per year. 

“Our study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of aging on our blood vessels with real-world exercise in just six months,” Dr Charlotte Manisty, the study’s senior author and cardiologist at University College London said in a statement. “These benefits were observed in overall healthy individuals across a broad range and their marathon times are suggestive of achievable exercise training in novice participants.”

The study looked at people ranging from age 21 to 69, with an average age of 37 and an even split between men and women. Older, slower male runners with higher baseline blood pressure saw the most significant benefits. 

“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,” Manisty said. “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.”