If you want to live longer (and better), just run. That’s according to a fascinating new scientific analysis of past research showing that runners live about three years longer thannon-runners, even if they run slowly or only once in a while and/or smoke, drink or are overweight. Running was the only form of exercise to have this effect on lifespan.
The study built on previous analyses of data from medical and fitness tests conducted at the Cooper Institute in Dallas showing that as little as five minutes of daily running appears to prolong lifespan. In statistical terms, the researchers determined that an hour of running lengthens your life expectancy by seven hours.
The new study was published recently in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease, and involved analyzing the data from the Cooper Institute again, along with findings from other large-scale recent studies of exercise and lifespan.
Cut Risk of Premature Death by 40%
What the team found in the data was that running, regardless of how fast or how far you run, drops your risk of premature death by almost 40%! And that was true even for those who smoked, drank alcohol, and/or had a history of health problems such as high blood pressure or obesity.
The scientists also theorized based on the data that if every nonrunning participant in the studies had taken up running, deaths would have been reduced 16% overall and fatal heart attacks would have been reduced by 25%.
Improvements in life expectancy tended to level off after about four hours of weekly running—but they never declined. In other words, the researchers did not find that “too much” running led to declines in life expectancy.
Running Beats Every Other Form of Exercise
Other forms of exercise such as walking and cycling did have positive benefits, but less so than running.
According to the study’s lead researcher, running probably has such dramatic effects because it fights many common risk factors for early death, including high blood pressure, and extra body fat, especially abdominal fat. Meanwhile, it improves aerobic fitness, which is one of the most important indicators of long-term health.
Worth the Effort
Ultimately, it’s important to note that the benefits aren’t infinite—meaning that no matter how much you run, the most you can expect to gain in life expectancy is about three years. Still, the possibility of adding a few good years to your life—while also improving your overall long-term health and quality of life—simply by running for as little as five minutes a day seems more than worth the effort, and, let’s face it, occasional misery of hitting the pavement.