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Run for your life

As they say in the classics – run Forrest, run!

New research shows people who run, regardless of how fast, how far or how often are likely to live longer than people who don’t.

According to a systematic review and meta-analysis including 14 studies and over 230,000 participants, running as exercise was associated with a 27%, 30% and 23% reduced risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, respectively.

And in really good news for those of us who aren’t marathon-inclined, it appears you can expect to significantly reduce your mortality risk even if you just run 50 minutes a week, the Australian study authors said. In fact, the research also suggests you don’t necessarily get greater longevity benefits the more you run. There’s no significant dose-response trend for running.

“Any amount of running, even just once a week, is better than no running, while higher doses of running may not necessarily be associated with greater mortality benefits,” said the study authors in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

And if you’re wondering if the mortality benefits might be the same for other forms of exercise such as walking or cycling, according to the researchers the answer is generally no.

A number of the studies included in the meta-analyses compared running with other forms of exercise and found that even though all forms of exercise were beneficial, for the equivalent time spent exercising, running conferred the greatest reduction in mortality. The caveat to this however was when high volumes of exercise were undertaken – then it didn’t seem matter whether you walked, ran or cycled – you will get a similar benefit.

The reason why running is particularly good for your health? It seems that minute for minute, running increases your metabolic rate better than other common forms of exercise.

“We speculate that during short exercise/activity sessions, the intensity (expressed in [resting metabolic rate]) is, on average, higher for running than for walking and cycling,” the study authors said.

The findings are consistent with global and national guidelines that recommend that adults undertake at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

The finding that any activity is better than nothing in terms of longevity should be encouraging for the large numbers of people worldwide who are currently largely inactive. Previous research has estimated that more than five million premature deaths a year would be prevented if physically inactive people (again worldwide) started moving in line with the guidelines.

According to the study authors, there has been some concern in the past about promoting running as a form of exercise because of the risk of sudden cardiac death. This study provides good evidence that the benefits outweigh the risk.

“Increased rates of participation in running, regardless of its dose, would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity,” they concluded.

Reference

Pedisic Z, Shrestha N, Kovalchik S, Stamatakis E, Liangruenrom N, Grgic J, et al. Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br. J. Sports Med. 2019; 0: 1-9. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100493 [Epub ahead of print]