A new study conducted by Barts Heart Centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, St George’s Hospital and University College London (UCL) has found that long distance running can increase male athletes’ vascular age by a decade. On the other hand, it can reduce the cardiovascular age of women by an average of six years.
The study included over 300 masters athletes aged above 40. An equal number of men and women were studied. The participants had been exercising regularly for a minimum of 10 years. They had taken part in over 10 endurance events. The researchers found that endurance events such as marathons and triathlons can help boost women’s health. However, the men’s arteries were lot stiffer than expected. The study used heart MRI scans to look at the stiffness of the aorta. When examining the descending aorta, they found that male athletes’ vascular age was 15 years more than their chronological age. This puts them at a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. In female athletes, it was six years lower.
However, the study was unable to explain why the impacts on men and women were so different. The British Heart Foundation and Cardiac Risk in the Young funded the study. The researchers presented it at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) conference in Manchester. It has not been peer-reviewed yet.
“For athletes who train in endurance exercise, their hearts must work harder to pump blood around the body – and research has shown that in some cases, this can cause changes to the heart,” The Telegraph quoted Prof. James Leiper, associate medical director, British Heart Foundation. He also said that we need further research in this area.
“How this finding applies to potential risk in athletes is not yet fully understood, so more work will be needed to help identify who could be more at risk,” Dr Rebecca Hughes, who led the study, said in the Telegraph article. She is a clinical research fellow at UCL and the Barts Heart Centre.
It is also important to note that among the general population, men are more likely to suffer from heart and circulatory diseases than women.