Running is a very accessible and popular sport. Not much is needed when going for a jog. A pair of shoes, some sportswear and just a little of your time. Although some state that running may be harmful in some cases, which indeed may be true when you overreach, the statistics highlighting the benefits are shocking.

Previous research already suggested that physical activity will induce substantial health benefits. Some studies found an improved blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and blood lipid profile. Besides those benefits, physical activity also can help in the prevention of chronic diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.

The benefits of running

In this study, 55137 men and women between 18 and 100 years old where followed for an average of 15 years. At the start of the study, all those people were asked to fill in a questionnaire about their running activities in the last 3 months. In this questionnaire, questions were asked to determine the running frequency, running time, speed, distance and MET.

For each of these running characteristics, the participants were categorized into 6 groups. One group consisted of only non-runners. The other five groups were based on the degree of the running characteristics. At the start of the study, runners were leaner, were less likely to smoke, showed a higher cardiorespiratory fitness level, had a lower prevalence of chronic diseases and were likely to participate in others physical activities besides running.

During the study, 2196 participants died from other causes than cardiovascular disease (CVD), whereas 1217 participants died from CVD. So, together 3413 participants died. When adjusting for possible co-factors like smoking, other physical activities etc., runners had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality and even a 45% lower risk of CVD mortality! For runners of 50 years and older, the all-cause mortality was 29% lower, compared to non-runners. On top of that, non-runners showed a 3-year lower life expectancy.

Short, but persistent running

And you don’t even have to reschedule your whole agenda! Even running less than 51 min/ week, or 5-10 minutes a day, may reduce CVD mortality risk to a similar extent. Running short distances (<6 miles), at a low frequency (1-2 times a week), at a low speed (< 6 miles/h) or at a low MET, may all result in a lower risk of all-cause and CVD mortality! Runners who kept running during the complete study showed the most significant mortality benefits though (29% lower all-cause death risk and 50% lower CVD death risk). Persistency pays off!

Running more or faster; no additional benefits on mortality risk

Still controversy exists regarding the optimal running dose. Some suggest that excessive endurance sports may induce negative cardiovascular effects, whereas others suggest a linear dose-response relationship between running and CVD-risk, meaning that a higher running intensity might reduce CVD-risk to a greater extent.

Indeed, some studies, like this one, suggest less or no mortality benefits at higher dosages of vigorous intensity activities. People who participate in vigorous intensity exercise over 180 min/week might even show a slightly higher death rate according to one study.

Running little still beats not running!

This study concluded that even a low dose of running might have beneficial effects on mortality risk. Overall, runners had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality and even a 45% lower risk of CVD mortality. Besides, runners had 45% lower risk of coronary heart disease mortality and 40% lower risk of stroke mortality after adjustments for other possible co-factors, like smoking. Additionally, the sudden cardiac death rate in runners was halve of that of non-runners.

When all non-runners turned into runners, 16% of all-cause deaths and 25% of CVD deaths during this study might have been prevented. Just let that sink in for a minute!

Nonetheless, never start without consulting a professional! Suddenly exposing your body to high intensity exercise might have severe consequences.

Lee D-c, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2014;64(5):472-81.