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Marathon Training Linked To Improved Heart Health In Middle-Aged Recreational Runners

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In the past ten years or so there has been a steady increase in the number of middle-aged people entering marathon races. However, some studies have reported far higher risk of cardiac arrest among such marathon runners during a race. It seems that this risk can be reduced through an effective preparation strategy, according to research led by Dr Jodi L. Zilinski from Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zilinski and her team focused on recreational male runners of middle age since this is the group most likely to experience cardiac arrest during marathon running. The study was conducted with 45 subjects aged 35 to 65. Roughly half of them had participated in at least three marathons and the rest had one or two races on their records. The recreational runners selected for the study were planning to take part in the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The subjects were asked to undertake an 18-week training programme and told to run between 12 and 36 miles every week, the distance being determined by their training phase. The programme itself included group runs, endurance training, a detailed training guide, access to local cross-training facilities, nutrition tips, pacing advice, preparation tips and regular coaching correspondence.

The training programme resulted in substantial improvement in key cardiovascular risk factors. The researchers found a 5% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or what is popularly known as “bad” cholesterol. The reduction for total cholesterol was estimated at 4%, while triglycerides fell by 15%. The analysis also showed a 4% rise in peak oxygen consumption and a 1% drop in BMI.

According to Zilinski, the results highlight the potential of regular exercise to reduce heart disease risk. However, people should always consult their doctor before embarking on an intense training programme, she added.