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Marathon Running May Boost Heart Health

Update Date: Mar 27, 2014 06:42 PM EDT

Marathon runners may have healthier hearts, according to a new study.

New research reveals that marathon training improved risk factors related to heart disease among middle-aged recreational male runners. Researchers said the latest findings suggest that race preparation may be an effective strategy for reducing heart disease risk

The latest study involved 45 recreational male runners between the ages of 35 and 65 who were planning to run the 2013 Boston Marathon. Researchers said around half of the participants had run three or more marathons in their lifetime, and the other half had run two or less.

Participants did a 18-week training program, which included group runs, endurance training, a detailed training guide, access to cross-training facilities in the Boston area, nutrition tips, advice about pacing, preparation hints and regular coaching. They were also instructed to run 12 to 36 miles a week depending on the phase of training.

"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 researcher Dr. Jodi L. Zilinski, M.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a 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."

The findings revealed that the training program led to a significant drop in risk factors associated with cardiovascular risk. The study found that low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, known as "bad" cholesterol, was reduced by 5 percent; total cholesterol fell 4 percent, and triglycerides dropped 15 percent. The findings also revealed a 1 percent drop in body mass index, and a 4 percent increase in peak oxygen consumption, a measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness, which is a potent prognostic marker of cardiovascular mortality.

"Overall, participants experienced cardiac remodeling - improvements in the size, shape, structure and function of the heart," Zilinski said. "Even with a relatively healthy population that was not exercise naïve, our study participants still had overall improvements in key indices of heart health."

The findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

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