Regular long-distance running can help prevent the metabolic syndrome, a group of diseases that can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, says a study published in the March edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
In a National Runners’ Health Study that monitored more than 62,000 men and 45,000 women, decreases in high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, the three conditions that make up the metabolic syndrome, correlated with increases in the average number of marathons ran per year.
Paul Williams, Ph.D., author of the study, found that men who ran two or more marathons per year were 41 percent less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, 32 percent less likely to have high cholesterol, and 87 percent less likely to be diabetic than non-marathoners. Those who ran only one marathon every two to five years also had a significantly lower risk for these conditions than non-marathoners.
The benefits of running marathons were largely independent of the total number of miles run per year by participants, indicating that isolated distance running bouts in preparation for marathons may have been effective in decreasing risk of disease. Even runners who didn’t run marathons but included long runs as part of their usual exercise routines were less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
“All forms of regular exercise provide important health benefits,” Williams said. “But this data suggests there may be heightened benefits for those who make the exceptional effort and commitment.”
The study acknowledges that people who regularly run marathons, like many of the study’s participants, may be genetically predisposed to running long distances.
“Not everyone is going to run marathons, but most can probably exercise a lot more than they are currently,” Williams said.
Experienced marathon runners can improve their performance by reading:
Less experienced or beginners should read the recent post on preparing to run the marathon