Running at any pace for about 2 hours a week total could add up to 3 years to your lifespan. Even if you’re overweight, even if you drink alcohol throughout your life, and even if you smoke.
No matter how fast you run, if the total is 2 hours a week, your risk of premature death is 40% lower than non-runners your age. And no, walking and cycling doesn’t have as dramatic an effect. (These exercises still have a benefit – about 12% lower risk of premature death).
I love this study because I love to run! Moreover, it means that even my dad, at 79 years old, can benefit from his slow jog each day, despite the fact that he used to smoke and he does have high blood pressure. It also means that my overweight patients who are desperate to lose weight can run slowly a half hour a day, without joining a gym (weather permitting) and know they’re not just burning calories but also helping increase their life!
Two caveats I must point out here:
First, as a New York Times article points out, “running does not make people immortal” the gain in years of life, of course, isn’t infinite – the benefit seems to plateau at about three years of life. I’ll take an extra three years thank you very much!
Also, these findings are not proof of causation – we still haven’t had a study that controls for people not running included in the study as well. These findings represent an association between running a certain amount of hours a week and an increased lifespan.
Runners typically live healthier lifestyles, eating better and avoiding bad habits like smoking. They’re less likely to have high blood pressure and less likely to have chronic disease. It’s possible that these factors play a heavier role than the running itself. The cause and effect of running itself and living longer hasn’t been proved (YET!).
Yet, who are we kidding? The consistent aerobic cardiovascular workout of running in and of itself has multiple health benefits. Getting up your heart rate, whether it’s at a 20 minute mile or a 7 minute mile pace, is good for you. PERIOD!
Once a good study is done prospectively (moving forward to follow participants from youth through death) and controlling for multiple factors to compare runners and non-runners, I bet my favorite running shoes this cause and effect will be proven.