Endurance runners at risk for calcified coronary plaque

American College of Cardiology 59th Annual Scientific Sessions

ATLANTA – Runners of multiple marathons appear to have more calcified plaque in their coronary arteries than those who are not endurance athletes.

A new study found that long-term endurance running in marathon runners was associated with significantly increased calcified coronary plaque volume compared with non-marathon runners (274 mm3 vs. 169 mm3), according to data presented at the American College of Cardiology 59th Annual Scientific Sessions.

“The results were surprising, and extremely counterintuitive,” Jonathon G. Schwartz, MD, of the department of internal medicine at University of Colorado, Denver, said in a press release. “Not only were elite runners just as likely as sedentary people to have calcium plaque in their coronary arteries, they actually appear to have more.”

Schwartz and colleagues examined a group of 42 men and seven women who had run at least 25 marathons in consecutive years. Participants were matched for age, sex, height and CV risk factors. The researchers performed Computed Tomography Angiography and measured BP, heart rate and lipid data.

Compared with a sedentary control group, marathon runners had significantly higher calcified plaque volume. However, the researchers found no significant between-group differences in noncalcified plaque, calcium scores or calcium presence (67% vs. 57%).

“This study does not mean that exercise is bad for your heart,” Schwartz said in the release. “What it does show is that the public and health care professionals must keep in mind that everyone is at risk for heart disease, regardless of how active one may be.”

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