Signing up to a marathon can add four years to your life


The fountain of youth has long held fascination for researchers, explorers and mere mortals alike. But science suggests it could be closer than we realise.

A new study suggests that you can shave four years off your ‘vascular age’ by running a marathon.

Researchers from Barts and University College London found that new runners who trained for, and completed, a marathon had markedly better heart health.

The study followed 138 rookie runners who signed up for the London Marathon.

In just six months of training for the marathon, their arteries reverse-aged, regaining an elasticity more commonly found in younger people and potentially preventing future heart attacks and strokes.

Their blood pressure also fell, without the need for medication which would have had similar effects.

The least fit participants reaped the biggest benefits.

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The heart is a muscle

Dr Preeya Alexander, GP aka The Wholesome Doctor who specialises in preventative health, agreed that running is fantastic for heart health.

“People often forget the heart is a big muscle- it needs exercise,” she said.

“Exercise like running, walking and swimming can reduce risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and can reduce stroke risk. It’s also great for weight management.

“Exercise is also part of loads of treatment regimes for high blood pressure, fatty liver, PCOS and type 2 diabetes. Not only do we prescribe loads of things like medications, lifestyle advice to our patients as GPs, but we also frequently prescribe a run or a walk for many.

“The Australian guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days, aiming for 150-300 minutes total a week, for heart health and chronic disease prevention.”

Do you really need to run a marathon?

If the idea of a marathon is too daunting, the good news from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) is that even smaller amounts of aerobic exercise would have a similar effect.

It found that adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This could be as simple as brisk walking or a bike ride.

Dr Alexander said that as long as “you are short of breath slightly, warm and have a raised heart rate” then a brisk walk can be just as good for you.

If you want to cut that time even further, opt for a vigorous exercise – such as running – and it only needs to be 75 minutes a week.

Strength or bodyweight workouts twice a week, such as push-ups or sit-ups, are also recommended.

“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,” BHF’s Professor Metin Avkira said.

“As the old mantra goes, ‘If exercise were a pill, it would be hailed as a wonder drug.'”



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