Can Running Help You Live Longer?

Running Helps You Live Longer—and it Only Takes a Little! 

If you want to live longer, it’s time to lace up your running shoes! According to a major new study, running significantly lengthens your life. And you need not run fast or far—running for as little as 6 miles a week can help you live up to 6 years longer!

Woman running in the city

These are the exciting findings of top cardiologists, exercise physiologists, and epidemiologists in the United States who came together to assess the long-term effects of running on mortality risk. The team collated the majority of data from 18 reports from the National Runners Health Study, the National Running Aging Study, the Copenhagen City Heart Study, and the Aerobic Center Longitudinal Study’s Running Report.

Each of these large-scale studies followed at least 500 people for at least 5 years from the year 2000 onward. The findings, published November 2015 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, validated the many well-known health benefits of running, but came with some surprises, including the maximal running dose for improved longevity.

Validated and Surprising Health Benefits

The in-depth review found that running does indeed help with weight management, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation. It also helps to reduce the risk of certain cancers, benign prostate hypertrophy (enlarged prostate gland), respiratory disease, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease or all-causes. Surprisingly, the review also showed that runners have an advantage over non-runners when it comes to the upkeep of the musculoskeletal system.

Running has come under fire for being too hard on your body, particularly your joints. Researchers discovered that there were actually fewer cases of osteoarthritis and hip replacements among runners than among non-runners. A continuing Stanford University study confirms these findings, as runners are proving to be better off than non-runners on a disability index measuring common daily activities.

How Much Running Is Enough

To enjoy the longevity gains of running need to run about 6 miles a week. That’s approximately 52 minutes total, which can be divided into two running workouts every seven days! Results from the review show that running at this level gives you a 3 to 6 year longer lifespan than non-runners.

Important to note is that running is one instance where more is not always better. You can feel great about running between 10 and 12 miles a week a gentle pace, but as far as pushing too much beyond that, the researchers noted a “point of diminishing return” for those who ran more than 20 miles a week. Running that many miles can actually negate longevity benefits.

right foot resting on a bench; lacing shoeThis phenomenon of negative benefits from longer distance running is now being coined cardiotoxicity. That term refers to damage to the heart muscle from extreme exercise, such as prolonged, high-volume training and competing in iron mans, triathlons, and marathons. In an interview with Runner’s World, lead author Chip Lavie, MD, explained:

“The low-dose runners had lower levels of fitness than higher-dose runners but appeared to get maximal protection against cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.” 

The optimal dose discovered by researchers doesn’t quite match up to current U.S. Government guidelines, which recommend 75 minutes weekly of vigorous activity such as running:

  • According to current guidelines, 1 minute of running delivers similar benefits to 2 minutes of light exercise, such as walking.
  • In light of the most recent research, researchers set the ratio instead to 1:3 or 1:4, saying that 1 minute of running is more on par with 3-4 minutes of walking, which just doesn’t reach the same health benefits as quickly.

If you’ve been debating putting on your running shoes, this latest review may help you finally tie those shoelaces. The authors conclude: “The overall benefits of running far outweigh the risk for most individuals, and are associated with considerable protection against chronic diseases and CVD [heart] and all-cause mortality.”