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 theAmerican 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 triad that comprises the metabolic syndrome — correlated with increases in average number of marathons ran per year.

Paul Williams, PhD, author of the study, found that men who ran two or more marathons per year were 41% less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, 32% less likely to have high cholesterol and 87% less likely to be diabetic than non-marathoners. Those who ran only one marathon every two to five years also had significantly lower risk for these conditions than non-marathoners.

The benefits of running marathons were largely independent of 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 — those who included longer 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 these data suggest 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. “Those with heart conditions should consult their physician.”

The study’s findings reiterate the main message of ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine program, which promotes the internal and preventive aspects of physical activity. Research shows that regular exercise — even in smaller bouts, like walking for half an hour — can treat and prevent a host of chronic conditions, including those in the metabolic syndrome, in addition to sustaining quality of life and increasing longevity. Learn more at

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.