The heart health benefits documented in the study likely have much less to do with the one-time race event than they do with the fact that the training program got people in the habit of regular, moderately intense exercise, says exercise researcher Dr. Tim Church, an adjunct professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. On average, the participants ran between 6 and 13 miles per week, during their training, so, not super long distances.
"The training program was very practical and very doable," says Church, who was not involved in the study, but who reviewed the training regimen and results for NPR. "It was a slow build up over six months," Church says.
And, it turned out, that the older, slower runners saw the most benefits, in terms of reducing blood pressure and arterial stiffness.
Of course, running a marathon is not a good goal for everyone, and it's best to consult your healthcare providers before you commit, especially if you have joint or heart issues. But Church says most people can find a way to be more physically activity, whether it's cycling, swimming, rowing or even walking.
"I always point to the federal physical activity guidelines," Church says. These guidelines recommend that adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity over the course of a week. The guidelines are based on a body of evidence that about 30 minutes of exercise a day is enough to reduce your risk of lifestyle diseases.
Even among people with existing heart disease, Church points to evidence that regular physical activity can help improve key markers of heart health. And, research shows exercise can help ease anxiety, depression, even sleep disorders.
"The benefits begin once you get off the couch and start moving," Church says.
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