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Long-Term Endurance Exercise Tied to Aortic Enlargement

One in five masters-level athletes show aortic dilatation, with higher rates seen among men

person jogging

FRIDAY, March 6, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Clinically relevant aortic dilatation is common among aging endurance athletes, according to a study published online Feb. 26 in JAMA Cardiology.

Timothy W. Churchill, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues assessed the prevalence of clinically relevant aortic dilatation (defined by a diameter at sinuses of Valsalva or ascending aorta of ≥40 mm) among 442 long-term masters-level male (60 percent) and female athletes aged 50 to 75 years, with about two decades of exercise history (228 rowers and 214 runners).

The researchers found that 21 percent of all participants (31 percent of men and 6 percent of women) had clinically relevant aortic dilatation. The distribution of measured aortic size displayed a rightward shift with a rightward tail compared with published nomograms. Nearly one-quarter of individuals (24 percent) had at least one z score of 2 or greater, suggesting an aortic measurement greater than 2 standard deviations above the population mean. Both elite competitor status (rowing participation in world championships or Olympics or marathon time less than two hours and 45 minutes) and sport type (rowing) were independently associated with aortic size when adjusting for age, sex, body size, hypertension, and statin use.

"This study identified an elevated prevalence of aortic dilatation among aging endurance athletes without clear explanatory risk factors, suggesting that long-term endurance exercise is associated with aortic enlargement," the authors write.

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