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Heart Disease Health Center

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Marathons Safe for Older Runners' Hearts

Transient Heart Changes Seen, but No Lasting Heart Damage, Researchers Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 31, 2010 (Stockholm, Sweden) -- When it comes to your heart heath, don't let age alone make you reluctant to run a marathon.

So say researchers who found that amateur runners over age 50 -- and as old as 72 -- experienced some temporary heart changes, but no lasting damage after the 26.2-mile run.

"The results are comforting for older runners," says study head Fabian Knebel, MD, a cardiologist at the Medical Clinic for Cardiology, Angiology, and Pneumology at the University Medicine Berlin.

The same pattern was observed in younger runners, he says.

Knebel reported the findings at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

Heart Changes Temporary After Running Marathon

The study involved 167 runners, with an average age of 50, who participated in the 2006 and 2007 Berlin Marathon races.
All participants had completed at least one 26-mile race.

Doctors examined them 10 days before the race, as soon as they crossed the finish line, and two weeks after the race.
Knebel says their heart rates jumped from an average of 62 beats per minute before the race to 88 beats per minute by the end of the marathon.

Also, more than half of the runners showed increases in levels of troponin T and/or N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide, both markers of heart damage, after they crossed the finish line.

"Two weeks after a marathon, these key parameters were all back to normal levels," Knebel says.

"Concerns about marathon running causing sustained damage to the heart appear to be unfounded," he says. Echocardiogram testing performed in each runner showed normal results two weeks after the marathon.

Dehydration Blamed for Transient Heart Changes

The most likely cause of the temporary changes in heart function was dehydration, Knebel says.

"Dehydration is probably the No. 1 reason for health problems in marathon runners," says American Heart Association spokesman Ray Gibbons, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

No matter what your age, dehydration can lead to dangerously rapid heartbeats, he tells WebMD.

"You really have to work at drinking at all those water stops along the way, which most runners don't want to do," Gibbons says.

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