Over the years, a number of contentious studies have been conducted on the health of long distance runners - particularly marathoners. Some health experts are convinced that running is the ultimate exercise, while others are equally convinced that long distance running is as hard on the bones and joints as it is on the heart.

A new study takes the middle ground when it comes to running and runners - stating that marathon running is neither particularly beneficial nor harmful for a runner's heart. But this particular study took things one step further and looked at how running affected the health of runners' spouses. Here, they saw a significant improvement in the heart health of non-runners who are married to runners.

For the study, researchers from the University of Hartford reached out to marathoners who were signed up for the 2012 Boston Marathon. They asked runners if they and their non-running spouses would undergo a series of heart health tests. Forty-two marathoner/spouse partners signed up. The ages of the runners ranged from 33 to 59. Half were women. As you might expect, the runners followed a fairly significant exercise regimen. But their spouses were considerably less active, averaging fewer than two sessions of moderate exercise per week. Many did not exercise at all.

Before the race, the marathoners and their partners completed questionnaires about their overall health, exercise, and eating habits. They also underwent a cholesterol test and a non-invasive heart scan to reveal the buildup of arterial plaques, an indication of heart disease.

Not surprisingly, the runners were thinner and had lower blood pressure, heart rates, and bad cholesterol than their non-running partners. But that was where the health benefits of running ended. Researchers found that some of the racers, particularly those on the older end of the spectrum, had significant deposits of plaques in their arteries, indicating that marathon running did not cancel out the other potential risk factors - like genetics and eating habits - for heart disease.

But the researchers also found no link between the amount or speed the runners ran and the amount of plaque in their arteries. So it was safe to say that running didn't cause heart disease either.

What was interesting was the cardiac health benefits noted by the runners' partners. Researchers found that even those spouses that didn't claim to exercise walked and moved around more frequently than folks of the same age in the general public. The partners also scored better overall on their cardiac health tests than their peers.

Bottom line: If you want to improve your health, don't worry about becoming a runner - just marry one instead.

Source: British Medical Journal Open

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