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Endurance exercise, such as long-distance running, swimming, and cycling, improves metabolism and reduces the risk of disease and death, especially from cardiovascular-related conditions. A new study found that marathon running, in particular, improves cardiovascular health by reversing age-related aortic stiffness.

The aorta is the largest artery in the human body. It delivers oxygenated blood from the heart to peripheral tissues. Aortic stiffness, or inelasticity, is a hallmark of aging and cardiovascular disease. Alterations in the mechanical properties of the aorta drive aortic stiffness.

The study involved 138 healthy adults who participated in a 6-month training program for a marathon. The study participants were between the ages of 21 and 69 years who ran between 6 and 13 miles per week.

Measures of the participants' aortic blood pressure and aortic stiffness provided estimates of their biological “aortic age.” Post-training measures revealed that training reduced systolic and diastolic aortic blood pressures by 4 mm Hg and 3 mm Hg, respectively, translating to approximately four years of chronological age. Men and older marathon runners saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health, compared to younger or female runners.

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