Novice runners gained considerable heart benefits after just 18 weeks of training for the Boston Marathon (Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, Feb 2015). Forty-five non-trained, middle-aged men who had jogged an average of 13 miles a week before starting the program, followed an 18-week training program for the Boston Marathon. They ran four to five times per week, 3.6 to 9 miles per run, with one longer run each week.
Sixty-four percent of the runners had at least one heart attack risk factor. With training, the hearts of all of the men grew much stronger, their ability to exercise improved considerably, and their heart attack risk factors improved with major drops in their total-cholesterol, bad LDL-cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. The hearts of these average and non-elite, recreational runners grew larger, stronger and more efficient in the same way that has been shown in top-level. elite racers. The size of the heart muscles of their main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, and their right ventricle and left atrium increased significantly. Incredibly, before the training, seven of the 45 men had overt diastolic impairment, meaning that their hearts weren't relaxing efficiently, a sign of increased risk for heart attacks. This heart abnormality was eliminated completely by the study's training for the Boston Marathon.
The authors conclude that "Individuals who are interested in participating in the marathon at a recreational level should have absolutely no health concerns about it. Everything about the study suggests they are going to make themselves healthier. No matter which risk factor we looked at, marathon training made it better or didn't change it." The lead author, Dr. Aaron Baggish, says, "I think our study shows that [running a marathon] is extremely safe and that the type of marathon training most people do -- 20 to 30 miles/week -- to get ready for a run—improves health across the board."
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