Researchers have found that marathon runners above the age of 50 have similar temporary effects than those aged between 18 and 40 years, and that any cardiac abnormalities during a marathon disappears within a week after completing a race. The study is published online in the Journal of Cardiovascular MRI, and shows that it is safe for people over 50 to run a marathon.

First author of the study, Davinder Jassal, an associate professor of medicine, radiology and physiology in the Faculty of Medicine at Manitoba University, who led the research at St. Boniface General Hospital Research Centre, said: “There was no evidence of permanent heart damage from repeated marathon running in individuals over the age of 50.”

The researchers examined healthy volunteers who took part in the 2010 and 2011 Manitoba Full Marathon, and conducted blood tests, ultrasound of the heart (echocardiography), CT and MRI scans. They discovered that immediately after running a 26.2 mile marathon, top marathon runners above the age of 50 showed a transient elevation in blood markers and temporary swelling and weakness of the right side of the heart, which all returned to normal one week after the event.

As the population in Canada ages, the number of people above 50 who participate in regular physical activity continues to grow, with twice as many older people taking part in marathons over the last 20 years.

According to earlier research, blood markers have provided evidence of temporary heart injury in young endurance athletes between the ages of 18 to 40 years that were linked to findings with a temporary, yet reversible reduction of the right side of the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood. However, in all athletes the heart function and the blood markers returned to normal within a week of completing the marathon.

Jassal concludes:

“This is the first study worldwide to use cardiac CT in marathoners over the age of 50 to detect the presence of blocked arteries. Most importantly, repeated endurance stress does not seem to result in permanent myocardial injury in this patient population.”

Written by Petra Rattue