Why the marathon feel good factor doesn’t end at the finish line.

Brighton marathon runners are happier and healthier!



AUTHORS: E Thornton1, T Snell1, R Galloway2, Y Pitsiladis3, T Scanlon4. 1Brighton and
Sussex Medical School, The Audrey Emerton Building, Eastern Road, Brighton. 2 Brighton
and Sussex University Hospitals Trust, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Eastern Road,
Brighton. 3Department of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Brighton, Gaudick Road, Eastbourne, BN20 7SR. 4 Department of Public Health, Brighton and Hove City Council, King’s House, Grand Avenue, Hove, BN3 2LS.
BACKGROUND: Obesity, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and mental health all represent
significant public health challenges in the United Kingdom (UK). Is completing a first
marathon associated with any modifications in health behaviours related to these areas, and how long are these changes sustained for?
METHODS: An online questionnaire to examine health behaviours (namely: physical
activity, diet, smoking, alcohol consumption and mental wellbeing) in runners before and
after participation in their first marathon, was generated using secure, event management
software. The questionnaire was emailed to all previous participants of the Brighton
marathon (approximately 30,000 runners) and responses were analysed using GraphPad
Prism 6 software.
RESULTS: A total of 1581 runners completed the questionnaire (5% response rate).
Physical activity: Participants reported engaging in significantly more vigorous physical
activity since completing their first marathon (P<0.0001). Regarding moderate physical
activity, participants reported a significant increase in the days per week moderate physical activity was undertaken (P<0.05), but not the time spent doing moderate activity on exercise days. Diet: Participants reported consuming significantly more fruits and vegetables since completing their first marathon (3.6±0.04 portions, before first marathon; 4.4±0.04 portions, since first marathon; P<0.0001). Smoking: 194 participants (12%) smoked daily or occasionally when they signed up for their first marathon. 103 (53%) attempted to quit “in order to train for and run their first marathon”; the majority of these (52 participants, 53%) remained smoke free at 1 year. Alcohol: Participants reported reduced incidence of heavy drinking patterns (consuming >5 units/day and drinking between 3-7 days/week) since completing their first marathon. Mental wellbeing: Participants reported a significantly lower incidence of depression symptoms lasting >2 weeks in the year immediately following completion of their first marathon compared to the year immediately before signing up for their first marathon.
CONCLUSIONS: Participants reported that running their first marathon had significant,
beneficial effects on all of the health indicators examined. Given that no similar studies were found in the literature, these findings highlight the need for further investigation into health behaviour modification associated with marathon participation. More generally, research into the possible scope of mass participation sporting events as public health initiatives would valuable, as this may provide policy makers with novel methods to tackle pressing public health challenges.


Photo by Wildwise.

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