DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So if you're looking for a fitness goal, you might consider the findings of a new study of first-time marathon runners who are aged 21 to 69. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports these runners not only cross the finish line. Researchers say they've reversed their vascular age by about four years.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It would not be fair to call the participants in the study couch potatoes. Many were somewhat physically active. But the point of the study was to see what happens to the heart health of people who slowly, over a six-month period, trained to increase their mileage and endurance.
ANISH BHUVA: I'm not a runner, but when we found out these results, I decided to take up running.
AUBREY: That's study author Anish Bhuva of the Institute of Cardiovascular Science at University College London. He says with age, the arteries can stiffen and lead to higher blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. But moderately intense cardiovascular training can slow this process down considerably.
BHUVA: What we found in this study is that we're able to reverse the normal aging process.
AUBREY: The greatest benefit was seen in the older, slower runners. And researchers say reductions in blood pressure and artery stiffness were equivalent to a four-year reduction in vascular age. Tim Church is an adjunct professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He was not involved in the study but reviewed the training regimen and the results.
TIM CHURCH: The training program was very practical, very doable. It was this slow build-up over the course of six months to get to the point where, basically, you could survive a marathon.
AUBREY: These runners certainly did not set records, but they did develop new exercise routines. And their hearts appear healthier for it. Church says you don't have to take up running to get heart benefits. Cycling, rowing, swimming or even walking at a pace that keeps you puffing can get you there, too.
CHURCH: I always like to point towards the federal Physical Activity Guidelines - 115 minutes a week of moderate intensity walking. Or if you like to jog, 75 minutes a week.
AUBREY: He says the benefits begin once you get off the couch and start moving. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.