Good news for runners: A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests running, even for a few minutes a day, can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease - whether you plod along or go at race speed.
Researchers studied more than 55,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 100 over a 15-year period, looking at their overall health, whether they ran and how long they lived.
Compared to nonrunners, those who ran had a 30% lower risk of death from all causes and a 45% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, investigators found. In fact, runners on average lived three years longer than those who did not hit the pavement. When data was broken down by age, sex, body mass index, and smoking and alcohol use, the benefits were still the same.
“That’s important to note,” said Dr. Warren Levy, a cardiologist and chief medical officer of Virginia Heart in northern Virginia. “Even with all the negative factors, such as obesity, smoking and diabetes, those who were, let’s say, obese and ran had a less likely chance of dying from heart problems than those obese people who didn’t run. Same with smokers, diabetics, etc. ”
The speed and frequency of a person's running routine did not make a huge difference either. The data showed novice runners who ran less than 51 minutes, fewer than 6 miles, slower than 6 miles per hour, or only one or two times per week still had a lower risk of dying than those who did not put on running shoes.
D.C. Lee, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at Iowa State University's kinesiology department in Ames, Iowa, said the researchers found runners who ran less than an hour per week have the “same mortality benefits compared to runners who ran more than three hours per week.” So more may not be better.
“Its been shown that after a certain amount of running over a certain period of time, the benefits seem to wane,” said Levy. “We aren’t quite sure why.”
However, researchers did discover that consistency was key. They found participants who ran consistently over a period of six years or more gained the most benefits, with a 29% lower risk of death for any reason and 50% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke.
There have been many studies that have shown the benefits of exercise on the heart. But this study is one of the largest to pinpoint the positive effects of running, especially for nonmarathoners or nontriathletes.
"Since time is one of the strongest barriers to participate in physical activity, the study may motivate more people to start running and continue to run as an attainable health goal for mortality benefits," Lee said.
Activities like running can lower your blood pressure and decrease the production of glucose, which cuts your risk of developing diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Running also seems to protect the innermost lining of the arteries, keeping the walls and cells intact, which cuts the risk of blockages or clots that can cause strokes or heart attacks.
Levy, a runner himself, said people considering taking up running programs should talk to their doctors first, especially if they have chronic conditions.
“A lot of weekend warriors just go out without preparing for their run. It’s the runner who takes it gradually and trains correctly, even for a run around the block, who's the one who avoids injuries and other complications."