Running, no matter how little, is linked to 27% lower death risk

Sports Medicine

Research has already shown that running is an activity that can help us stay healthy for longer, but how much do we have to run to extend our lifespan? A new review suggests that no matter how little or how much we run, the exercise is linked with a significantly lower risk of death from all causes.

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According to a new review, there is an association between running and a longer lifespan, regardless of the frequency and duration of running.

Many studies have shown that running is a healthful form of aerobic exercise that has numerous benefits for both the body and the mind.

For example, the authors of a 2018 study argued that running could help protect brain health, while older research has tied this form of physical activity to slower aging.

But what link is there, if any, between running and mortality from all causes, and how does this activity affect the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease and cancer, in particular?

Furthermore, if running can indeed lead to a longer lifespan, does that mean that more running offers an increased level of protection?

These are the questions that researchers from Victoria University in Melbourne, the University of Sydney, and other academic institutions in Australia and elsewhere have recently aimed to answer.

To this purpose, the investigators reviewed the relevant literature — including published papers, conference papers, and doctoral theses — looking at the potential links between running and death risk. Their findings appear in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Any amount of running is better than none

The systematic review included 14 studies that involved a total of 232,149 participants. The studies followed up the health outcomes of the participants for periods that ranged between 5.5 years and 35 years. Over the study periods, 25,951 participants died.

When the researchers analyzed the data from the 14 studies, they found a link between any amount of running and a 27% lower risk of all-cause death. This finding applied to both females and males.

Moreover, the team linked running with a 30% lower risk of death relating to cardiovascular disease and a 23% lower risk of cancer-related death.

The significant association between running and lower death risk applied even to people who only ran once per week or less frequently. Individuals who ran at relatively low speeds of under 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) per hour and those who ran for less than 50 minutes also saw this reduced risk.

“The [World Health Organization] guidelines and national physical activity recommendations in many countries […] suggest that adults should take part in at least 150 [minutes] of moderate-intensity or 75 [minutes] of vigorous-intensity physical activity a week,” the researchers note in the study paper.

However, the current review’s findings suggest that running for less time may still carry health benefits. At the same time, the researchers add, there was no association between running for longer than the recommended amount and any additional health benefits or further reductions in the risk of death.

The researchers caution that their investigation was observational and did not aim to establish cause. Moreover, they note that the studies that they looked at all varied in their methodology and cohort size, which may have affected the final results.

Yet they remain confident that, generally speaking, running seems to help health, so they suggest that people consider taking it up. The authors conclude:

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

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