Female marathoners have less plaque than male counterparts, sedentary women

November 14, 2011, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation

While elite female marathon runners have fewer coronary plaques than their sedentary counterparts, they developed the same plaque volume and percent stenosis when it occurs, according to study findings presented Nov. 14 at the at the American Heart Association (AHA) scientific sessions in Orlando, Fla. This differs from their counterpart elite male runners who developed significantly more plaque volume than their sedentary counterparts.

Recent studies suggest that elite male marathon runners may paradoxically have increased . However, little is known about elite female athletes, since comparable coronary artery studies in women have not been reported.

"We had previously studied male marathoners, and were unpleasantly surprised by finding paradoxically more plaque in runners. We wanted to if the same was true for highly trained women runners," says the study's senior author Robert S. Schwartz, MD, an interventional cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute® at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and physician researcher with Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. "We were happy to discover that women who exercised extensively saw benefits in their cardiovascular health."

For the retrospective analysis, the researchers examined female long-distance runners for coronary artery plaque, on a risk-adjusted basis with age and risk-matched non-athletic female controls. The female athletes included had run a minimum of one marathon per year for 10 consecutive years. Using coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) scans, they characterized the location and volume of coronary atherosclerotic lesions.

Using state of the art CCTA with very low radiation doses, 25 female runners (all without cardiovascular symptoms) were compared with 28 matched, sedentary controls. The average body mass index of the control group was 32, compared with 21.9 for the marathoners.

Schwartz and his colleagues identified 28 lesions in 14 of the sedentary and seven lesions in five of the marathoners. Overall, the mean plaque volume for the control group versus the marathon group was 169.8 versus 95.8, and the average percent was 28 versus 10.3, respectively.

Unlike in the male counterparts, female marathoners had statistically significant fewer lesions compared with the sedentary group. However, on a per lesion basis, plaque volume and percent stenosis were not significantly different between each group, suggesting to the researchers that when plaque is present, both groups exhibited similar characteristics.

"These findings show a positive physical result for women choosing to be competitive because the marathoners had lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, better cholesterol profiles and lower incidence of diabetes," Schwartz said. "This was an opposite finding than in the men."

The researchers are currently building statistical models in hopes of understanding whether the fact the studied male athletes were so much older than the studied is causing this disparity. "We are now seeking to determine whether there is truly a gender difference, or was it confounded by age," Schwartz explained.

Explore further: CT angiography improves detection of heart disease in African-Americans

Related Stories

CT angiography improves detection of heart disease in African-Americans

June 28, 2011
Researchers may have discovered one reason that African Americans are at increased risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.

Fat around heart may be early indicator of coronary disease

August 16, 2011
Researchers have found more evidence supporting the role of fat around the heart in promoting atherosclerosis, according to a study published online in the journal Radiology.

MRIs could become powerful tools for monitoring cholesteral therapy

October 14, 2011
MRI scanning could become a powerful new tool for assessing how well cholesterol drugs are working, according to Loyola University Health System cardiologist Binh An P. Phan, MD.

Recommended for you

A nanoparticle inhalant for treating heart disease

January 18, 2018
A team of researchers from Italy and Germany has developed a nanoparticle inhalant for treating people suffering from heart disease. In their paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the group describes ...

Starting periods before age of 12 linked to heightened risk of heart disease and stroke

January 15, 2018
Starting periods early—before the age of 12—is linked to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke in later life, suggests an analysis of data from the UK Biobank study, published online in the journal Heart.

'Decorated' stem cells could offer targeted heart repair

January 10, 2018
Although cardiac stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for heart attack patients, directing the cells to the site of an injury - and getting them to stay there - remains challenging. In a new pilot study using an animal ...

Two simple tests could help to pinpoint cause of stroke

January 10, 2018
Detecting the cause of the deadliest form of stroke could be improved by a simple blood test added alongside a routine brain scan, research suggests.

Exercise is good for the heart, high blood pressure is bad—researchers find out why

January 10, 2018
When the heart is put under stress during exercise, it is considered healthy. Yet stress due to high blood pressure is bad for the heart. Why? And is this always the case? Researchers of the German Centre for Cardiovascular ...

Heart-muscle patches made with human cells improve heart attack recovery

January 10, 2018
Large, human cardiac-muscle patches created in the lab have been tested, for the first time, on large animals in a heart attack model. This clinically relevant approach showed that the patches significantly improved recovery ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.