How Much Do You Have to Run to Improve Health?

Today, we turn to the inspiring results of a recent study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This current study suggests that if more people started running and didn’t have to run very hard or fast, we would see substantial improvements in population health.

Researchers from Australia analyzed fourteen studies (including more than two hundred and thirty-two thousand individuals). They tracked their health for between 5.5 and 35 years. During the observation period of the study, almost twenty-six thousand participants died. This is what the researchers found:

Any ordinary amount was linked to a nearly one-third (about 30 percent) reduced risk of death and about a quarter (twenty-three percent) reduced risk of death from cancer.

So how much jogging do you need to do? Even just fifty minutes of running once a week at a pace of fewer than 10 miles per hour seem to be protective. The study authors say running is a good option for those who say they are too busy to exercise.

We don’t fully understand why running is associated with a lower risk of premature death. The current study does not establish causality, and the number of studies analyzed was small, and there was considerable variation in study methods.

Still, the message is this: any amount of running is better than none. The authors conclude that “increased participation in running, regardless of quantity, would likely lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity.”

I remember that a study by the European Society of Cardiology, published in 2012, showed that regular jogging increases the life expectancy of men by 6.2 years and women by 5.6 years. Investigators from the Copenhagen City Heart study presented these data at the EuroPREvent20212 meeting.

Reviewing the evidence on whether running is healthy or dangerous, Peter Schnohr told participants that the study showed that between one and two and a half hours of running per week at a “slow or medium” pace offers great longevity benefits. The ideal pace can be achieved by working hard to feel a little out of breath.

If you run, you can improve your oxygen intake, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve your lipid profiles (raising HDL, or so-called “good” cholesterol, while lowering triglycerides).

It can lower your blood pressure, reduce the aggregation of your blood platelets, improve heart function, bone density, and immune system function, reduce inflammation, lower your risk of obesity, and help with psychological well-being. And for some of us, you might even have more social interactions while running!

There is clear and abundant evidence that higher levels of physical activity, regardless of intensity, are associated with a lower risk of premature death in middle-aged and older adults.

An illustrative article, published in the British Medical Journal on August 21, 2019, found that being sedentary (for example, sitting for 9.5 hours or more a day) is associated with an increased risk of premature death.