Running has long been seen as a great way to get fit. You don’t need to be competing in marathons to reap the benefits, either, as more regular jogs are deemed to be just as good – if not better – for your well-being. Thanks to ongoing research on running, however, scientists have uncovered the real impact that the hobby can have on our health. And when you realize just how the activity affects our bodies, you may be shocked.
It’s true, for instance, that running may help in the quest to shed some pounds. Dropping a bit of weight can be a real boon, too, as the 13 percent of the world’s population deemed to be clinically obese – according to 2016 statistics from the World Health Organization – run the risk of a number of health concerns, including hypertension, type II diabetes and heart problems.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that heart disease is now America’s biggest killer, with approximately 647,000 people per year in the U.S. passing away as a result of cardiovascular complications. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that as a highly aerobic activity, running can help in the fight against future heart troubles.
And running is a pastime that has long been associated with brilliant health benefits. Indeed, even becoming a little more active in daily life may do you good. That’s according to a study unveiled in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, which explored the relationship between exercise and the development of HDL – or high-density lipoprotein – cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is generally considered to be more beneficial than its counterpart LDL – or low-density lipoprotein – cholesterol. In fact, HDL cholesterol is even thought to play a part in the removal of the fatty matter that likes to cling to artery walls and thus increase the risk of future cardiovascular disease.
For the 2002-published study, then, the researchers analyzed the lipoprotein profiles of individuals who had all been organized into four categories. One section of participants would engage in what was called “high-amount-high-intensity exercise,” with each person burning roughly the same amount of calories as someone who jogs roughly 20 miles a week at high peak oxygen consumption. The other study members would either take part in “low-amount-low-intensity” activity, “low-amount-moderate-intensity” exercise or be within the control group.
Then, upon scrutinizing the findings, the research team discovered that, in general, the subjects who most frequently exercised exhibited the most improvement in the quality and quantity of lipoproteins in the blood. In particular, those in the “high-amount-high-intensity exercise” group showed a marked increase in HDL – or “good cholesterol” – levels.
And exercise may not only cut the risk of heart disease, but it could also lower the likelihood of contracting cancer. The results of a study published in 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine found, for instance, that the risks of breast cancer and endometrial cancer were cut by 10 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in those female subjects with the greatest physical activity levels.
So, getting off the couch from time to time – even if it’s just for daily walks – will definitely do you good. But what about running? Well, a piece of research published in 2019 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine supports suggestions that there is a significant relationship between the pursuit and a reduced risk of cardiovascular and cancer-related diseases.
In order to come up with their results, a group of researchers based at universities in Thailand, Australia and Finland banded together to analyze 14 existing studies that all explored running’s effects on health. In total, then, the specialists looked at data on more than 232,000 participants with varying levels of physical fitness – some of whom had been tracked for 35 years. And what the team noticed was quite interesting.
When comparing the studies’ participants who ran with those who didn’t, lead author Željko Pedišić and his colleagues concluded that the runners were 27 percent less likely in general to pass away prematurely than their less active counterparts. The individuals who ran also saw their risk of dying early from cardiovascular complications cut by 30 percent and from cancer by 23 percent.
And these findings seem to echo the results of other research in the field. Following the conclusion of close to 170 epidemiological studies, a 2002 report in The Journal of Nutrition claimed that exercising does indeed make a difference when it comes to developing certain kinds of cancer. According to the work by C.M. Friedenreich and M.R. Orenstein, engaging in physical activity was in fact found to decrease the risk of acquiring colon, prostate, breast, lung and endometrial cancer.
Friedenreich and Orenstein’s research also suggested that keeping fit can cut the likelihood of cancer by as much as 70 percent. And Pedišić and his team’s finding that runners also faced a smaller risk of contracting the disease than their less active counterparts only bolsters the pursuit’s reputation as a way of improving your overall health.
Pedišić explained the result further in a November 2019 article for the World Economic Forum, writing, “When we pooled the data from the studies, we found [that] runners had a 27 percent lower risk of dying during the study period from any cause compared with non-runners. Specifically, running was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and a 23 percent lower risk of death from cancer.”
All in all, then, Pedišić and his fellow researchers’ findings seem to suggest that running can not only lessen the threat of early mortality, but it may also elongate life expectancy. So, by running – step by step – we may just be able to slow down our progression to that final finish line and live happier, healthier and longer lives.
And Pedišić – who works at Australia’s Victoria University – suggests that the results of the investigation could very well spur people on to lace up their sneakers and go jog. Speaking to CNN in November 2019, he said, “Our findings may motivate physically inactive individuals to take up running and those who already run to keep on doing it.”
But if those late-night laps around the block are beginning to seem that little bit more appealing, then there’s something else that you should know. You see, Pedišić and his colleagues didn’t just look to see whether running can actually help prolong life; they were interested in another key factor, too.
In particular, the group of ten experts wanted to see whether there was any relationship between how frequently the studies’ participants ran and those previously mentioned health benefits. It could have been the case, for example, that the more an individual ran, the more likely they were to stave off the possibility of early death.
But can we really keep running ourselves towards a lower and lower risk of premature mortality, or is there a limit to the beneficial effects that the pursuit may have? Is there even a point at which running begins to have a negative impact upon the body? These are the kinds of questions that the 2019 study looked to answer.
And, in fact, a piece of research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2013 suggests the amount of running you should be doing in order to prolong your lifespan. The survey – carried out using data provided by the decades-long Copenhagen City Heart Study – seems to imply that no more than two and a half hours a week of slow-paced running is needed to reap those rewards.
Yes, up until that two and a half hour point, you can apparently reduce your risk of premature death. Each time you’ve trudged on for that extra ten minutes on the treadmill, then, or turned off the path to add another loop to your circuit in the park, you may have extended your life that little bit more.
Interestingly, though, the Danish researchers found what they dubbed “a U-shaped relationship between jogging and mortality.” In essence, then, running for longer than the two and a half-hour limit doesn’t appear to further boost the chances of warding off the Grim Reaper for that little bit longer.
But if you’re understandably apprehensive about jogging – and wonder where you’re going to fit those extra couple of hours into your busy schedule – then there’s still good news at hand. You see, Pedišić and his colleagues’ research appeared to make another discovery about running’s benefits for health.
That’s right: the 2019 survey didn’t solely look into the relationship between running and mortality rates. In addition, the team of experts investigated whether the frequency and distance of those runs – or how far people ran and for how long – made any difference.
In order to do this, the researchers homed in on three separate groups who had been tracked in the original studies. This way, they could scrutinize whether running more often, for longer distances and at an increased pace further decreased the possibility of premature death. And, ultimately, what Pedišić and the others discovered was rather eye-opening.
The study revealed, “Compared with ‘sedentary’ non-runners, those who ran less than 2.5 hours a week, those who ran less than four times a week and also those who ran at a slow or average pace had significantly lower risks of all-cause mortality.” Running doesn’t necessarily need to take over your life, then, if you’re worried about an early death.
Following this more detailed analysis, you see, the ten specialists found no positive correlation between the speed of runs and a decreased risk of dying young. Those participants who ran more frequently than others were not seemingly less at risk, either, of passing away before their time – nor were those who ran for longer distances than their counterparts.
Yes, in their conclusion, the team wrote, “Increased rates of participation in running, regardless of its dose, would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity. Any amount of running – even just once a week – is better than no running, but higher doses of running may not necessarily be associated with greater mortality benefits.”
What this new study seems to suggest, then, is that the health advantages associated with the hobby – most notably the reduced likelihood of early mortality – do not actually improve relative to the number of hours put into running. And, as a result, it appears that we can’t actually run our way towards ever lower and lower health risks at all.
Ultimately, then, Pedišić and his co-workers suggested that running for practically any duration and distance can have a beneficial effect on longevity. In fact, substantial advantages were noted even among participants who pounded the pavement for under 50 minutes each per week. This was the case, too, with those who preferred to run at a less hectic pace of just 6 mph – or even slower.
According to a November 2019 report by The Guardian, Pedišić said of these surprising findings, “Any running is probably good for your health, and you can achieve those benefits by running even just once a week or running 50 minutes a week.” Nevertheless, he added, “That shouldn’t discourage those who run more than that amount – who maybe enjoy running three times a week or six times a week.”
And thanks to the results of the 2019 study, you don’t now need to find that spare two and a half hours a week. As running – to any extent – can elongate life, you can put on your sneakers safe in the knowledge that a simple 50-minute run every Saturday may just do you as much good.
However, if you’re happy that you don’t have to jog as often – or for so long – then you may want to consider the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO). You see, the international agency recommends that people under 65 should be working up a sweat for longer than just under an hour.
On its website, the WHO claims that, in order to maintain optimum health, “adults aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity… or… at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.” An “equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity” is also acceptable.
It’s worth noting, too, that running isn’t the only hobby to bring dividends in the form of a longer life. For a paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2016, Pedišić and eight other researchers from Europe and Australia investigated the effects of swimming on premature mortality. And after they had completed their study, the epidemiologists revealed some similarly cheering results.
As part of their research, the team surveyed in excess of 80,300 British adults about their sporting habits – including whether they ever engaged in swimming. Then, as Pedišić wrote for a 2017 piece for website SwimSwam, the academics “followed [the subjects] up for on average nine years to see who was more likely to die: those who had participated in these sports at the baseline or those who had not.”
Finally, after they had collated their data, the researchers had good news to share. “We found that participation in swimming was associated with [a] 28 percent lower risk of premature death from any cause,” Pedišić’s article continued. “[And] the positive effects of swimming were even greater for cardiovascular disease mortality.”
The researcher added, “Among those who participated in swimming, the risk of death caused by a cardiovascular disease was lower by 41 percent. Interestingly, these positive effects were similarly high regardless of the reported intensity level of swimming. This is an encouraging finding for all recreational swimmers who do not find motivation to or cannot for some reason swim at a higher pace.”
Not everyone has access to a pool, however, making running an easier option by which to stay fit. And if you’ve been encouraged to put on those sneakers for the first time in years, then Pedišić has some words of wisdom to share. In his piece for the World Economic Forum, the associate professor wrote, “Start slow and gradually increase the pace, duration and weekly frequency [of your runs].”
Pedišić added, “Set your aim at 50 minutes a week or more, and run at a comfortable speed. Be persistent, but don’t let yourself run out of steam. The benefits will be similar – regardless of whether you do it in one go or in multiple sessions spread across the week.” So ignore all the myths that there’s no point in running unless you’re training for the next half-marathon, and go jogging for an hour in the knowledge that you’re reaping the same mortality benefits as 10k-every-other-day Ray next door.