You’re Never Too Old to Run a Marathon

New heart research shows that running a marathon does not pose any additional danger for those over fifty, compared to younger athletes. This means you can keep running as you keep aging.

The old notion that marathons or other forms of similar exercise is for the younger generation has been disproven by a recent study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular MRI. This study shows that not only is it safe for people over 50 to run marathons, but marathon runners above the age of 50 have similar temporary effects as those who are between 18 and 40 years old, and any cardiac abnormalities during a marathon will disappear within a week after completing a race.

Researchers examined volunteers who participated in the 2010 and 2011 Manitoba Full Marathon. Blood tests, ultrasounds of the heart (echocardiography), and CT and MRI scans were conducted on the participants. Immediately after running the 26.2 mile marathon, top runners above the age of 50 showed brief increases in blood markers and temporary swelling and weakness of the right side of the heart. Fortunately, everything returned to normal within a week of the marathon.1

Earlier research shows that blood markers have provided evidence of temporary cardiac injury in young endurance athletes between the ages of 18 to 40 years. These damages were shown to be a temporary but reversible decrease in the ability to pump blood on the right side of the heart. Just as found in the study on marathoners aged 50 years and older, the heart functions and blood markers returned to normal.2

The first author of the study, Davinder Jassal, an associate professor of medicine, radiology and physiology in the Faculty of Medicine at Manitoba University, led the research at St. Boniface General Hospital Research Centre. He stated, “There was no evidence of permanent heart damage from repeated marathon running in individuals over the age of 50.” Jassal continued, “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.”3

The results of this study are quite reassuring due to the fact that as our populations age, the number of people above 50 who participate in regular physical activity increases as well. To wit, there are twice as many older people who participate in marathons over the last 20 years in Canada. Consequently, the excuse that one is too old to participate in exercise or marathons is no longer a valid argument.4

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