FRIDAY, April 10, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Long-distance runners are less likely than other people to develop metabolic syndrome, a group of health problems that include high blood pressure and high cholesterol and can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
U.S. researchers analyzed data from the National Runners' Health Study of more than 62,000 men and 45,000 women. They 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 have diabetes than non-marathoners.
Men who ran only one marathon every two to five years were also significantly less likely to have these conditions than non-marathoners.
Study author Paul Williams found that the benefits of running marathons were largely independent of total number of miles run per year by participants. This indicates that isolated distance running bouts in preparation for marathons may have helped decrease the risk of disease. Even runners who didn't enter marathons, but did include longer runs as part of their usual exercise routines, were less likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.
The findings were published in the March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
"All forms of regular exercise provide important health benefits. But these data suggest there may be heightened benefits for those who make the exceptional effort and commitment," Williams said in an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) news release.
However, he noted that people who regularly run marathons 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. Those with heart conditions should consult their physician," Williams said.
Research shows that even modest sessions of regular exercise, such as walking half an hour a day, can improve health, sustain quality of life and boost longevity, according to the ACSM.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about metabolic syndrome.