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Marathons Safe for Regular Runners Over 50
The hearts of marathoners older than 50 fare no worse after 26.2 miles than the hearts of their younger counterparts, according to new research.
By Jaimie Dalessio Clayton
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THURSDAY, August 23, 2012— Runners, keep on running. A marathon won't damage a 50-year-old elite runner's heart any more than it does an 18-year-old's, according to new research out of the University of Manitoba in Canada.
Whether you run or not, it's tough to ignore reports of marathoners who die during or after races. As a cardiologist and professor, it was even tougher for Davinder Jassal, MD, to ignore them. His most recent study looked at heart imaging scans, cardiac CT scans, and blood work of 25 veteran runners.
"We always hear about people running marathons, and someone drops dead," Dr. Jassal says. "My query or interest was, ‘Are we doing the right thing with people running these distances?'" So in 2002 he started studying the hearts of marathon runners.
He began with a group of amateur and elite runners aged 18 to 40. From 2002 to 2008, he and a team of researchers performed blood tests and heart ultrasounds on all the runners a week before, immediately after, and one week after their marathons.
For his most recent study, published this week in theJournal of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance, Jassal focused on runners over 50. He outlined specific criteria: Participants had to have run at least three marathons in the past two years. Out of the pool of elite runners (21 men and four women) he monitored from 2010 to 2011, many of them ran about 40 to 45 miles per week and had run 10 or 15 marathons in the past decade. They were far from amateurs.
Jassal and his team took blood work, did heart imaging, and this time (for the first time in the world) performed cardiac CT scans to look for blocked arteries in the participants. Like the study of younger runners, they performed these tests a week before, immediately after, and a week after the marathons.
The Heart After a Marathon
Jassal found the same thing among the over 50 crowd that he did with 18 to 40 year olds: The right side of the heart, which pumps blood to the lungs, temporarily becomes swollen and dysfunctional after pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles. But a week later, everything returns to normal.
The temporary heart damage isn't significant, Jassal says. Among the more than 100 marathoners Jassal has studied over the past decade, none had heart attacks or any other heart-related complications during that week.
But what about a 50-year-old who wants to run his first marathon? That's Jassal's next step — to look at amateur runners over 50. With an aging population, a growing number of marathoners fall into the over 50 category every year, he says.
Jassal hasn't studied any marathoners who ran without training, and he doesn't plan to.
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