Running and longevity
Running is (wait for it) good for you. That conventional wisdom has been challenged over the past few years, so it’s worth taking a moment to consider a recent analysis of data from more than 55,000 people collected at the Cooper Clinic in Texas over several decades. The results, published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, suggest that even very modest amounts of running – a few times a week, say – adds about three years to average life expectancy. In fact, the researchers calculate that each hour of running adds seven hours of lifespan – though the benefits tail off at higher training levels, meaning that you can’t become immortal by running 3.5 hours a day.
Running also seems to be uniquely good for you. “Inactive” runners, who ran but didn’t get much other physical activity, had a 30 per cent lower chance of dying during the study compared to sedentary people. In contrast, active non-runners who met the recommended minimum level of physical activity through other forms of exercise only saw a 12 per cent decrease. The best group of all, not surprisingly, was the active runners, who ran regularly and also participated in other forms of physical activity. Their mortality risk during the study was 43 per cent lower than the sedentary group.
So at what point do the benefits tail off ? This is where debate has sizzled in the past few years, with some commentators suggesting that training for a marathon is bad for your heart. The new analysis, based on the Cooper Clinic data and other large epidemiological studies, finds no evidence that “too much” running harms your health. Beyond a certain point, though, you’re not getting any further health benefits. As a broad generalization, the authors suggest that threshold comes at around 50k per week. That seems plausible. You can do more, of course, but it should be for a reason other than health – like, say, enjoyment.