Metabolic syndrome (MS) is a collection of cardiometabolic risk factors that includes obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. Although there has been significant debate regarding the criteria and concept of the syndrome, this clustering of risk factors is unequivocally linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Regardless of the true definition, based on current population estimates, nearly 100 million have MS. It is often characterized by insulin resistance, which some have suggested is a major underpinning link between physical inactivity and MS. The purpose of this review is to: (i) provide an overview of the history, causes and clinical aspects of MS, (ii) review the molecular mechanisms of insulin action and the causes of insulin resistance, and (iii) discuss the epidemiological and intervention data on the effects of exercise on MS and insulin sensitivity.