Loved by some and loathed by almost everyone else, running is one of the most common and convenient ways to get exercise. I am an avid runner, enjoy taking 20-30 minutes out of my day to go for a run most mornings. A run can be fit in at almost any time of the day, and for a good portion of the year it doesn’t require access to a fitness center of any kind. Regular running results in decreased mortality due to not only cardiovascular disease, but all causes.
There is often great concern about running due to its high impact nature, particularly regarding joint health. Most running related injury is preventable by wearing good shoes and using proper training techniques, however. It is important to start slow and gradually increase your running using a program such as the popular “Couch to 5K” approach. Another important step is visiting a store that specializes in running shoes and will make sure you are getting the proper shoes.
Should I Start Running?
The reason I am highlighting running this week is because a new study released in the March 2017 edition of the journal “Progress in Cardiovascular Disease” reports that runners live 3 years longer than non-runners on average. Physical activity of any kind is a positive thing. Different numbers have been reported for the number of deaths due to inactivity, but the number tends to be 6-9%. Adding just a little exercise to your day can make a huge difference.
The benefits of running are many, and are highlighted in multiple recent studies. Runners’ risk of premature death is 25-40% lower than non-runners, and this decrease holds even when the numbers are adjusted for confounding variables such as body mass index (BMI), smoking, and other forms of exercise. Running populations also show a profound decrease in cancer risk, with runners having a 30-50% reduced risk of cancer.
There are limitations to these studies to be aware of. One big problem is that activity is often self-reported by the study participants as opposed to being objectively evaluates. However, multiple studies have been published demonstrating the positive benefits of running. This helps to legitimize these claims regarding the benefits of running specifically.
How Does Running Contribute to Health?
Running has multiple effects on the body that are beneficial. In fact, it affects almost every major system in the body. The most obvious of these is the heart and
osteoarthritis (degenerative joint diseaseblood vessels. Regular running leads to better conditioning and a lower resting heart rate. It also helps to lower blood pressure because a conditioned heart is stronger and does not have to work as hard to pump.
Contrary to popular belief, running has many benefits for joints and muscles. Runners have decreased risk of disability and . This is likely because runners tend to weigh less than people that are inactive, however no definitive mechanism is known. From an endocrinology perspective, running increases glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity providing protection against type II diabetes. Increased HDL (good cholesterol) is associated with any increase in physical activity and protects against hyperlipidemia.
Neurologically, runners show increased gray matter in their hippocampus (memory) and prefrontal cortex (planning and decision making). Decreased depressive symptoms as well as protection against Alzheimer’s disease are added benefits for runners.
I am not a religious person, but I would argue that running can have intangible and spiritual benefits as well. One of my favorite things about my daily run is having the time to be outside and reflect. I am not a particularly outdoorsy person either, but I love running outside and experiencing nature a little bit every day.
What About Other Exercise?
Physical activity is almost always a good thing. In fact, the largest mortality reductions (43%) are seen in runners that also partake in other forms of physical activity. It is also important to give your muscle groups the rest they need to prevent injury, so varying the physical activity you do is a great idea. Mixing cardio and strength training is particularly beneficial because their benefits complement each other.
The March 2017 study does not look in depth at other forms of physical activity, but previous studies have shown that mortality benefits do exist, but they are not quite as large as running. Being physically active and choosing activities that you personally enjoy and will want to do on a regular basis is the most important thing. Running is great for me because it can be done almost anywhere and anytime with little to no equipment. It also fulfills multiple wellness dimensions for me (physical, spiritual, and emotional). However, if cycling, swimming, etc. is your thing then that is what you should go for.
Whatever activity you choose, just be sure to ease yourself into any new endeavors to prevent injury. It is also important to check with your health care provider before starting new exercise routines, especially if you have chronic medical conditions or take prescription medications.
Are you a runner? Have you thought about running? What physical activity do you prefer? Share your comment and opinions below or via social media. Have a great weekend and be well.
Lee D, Brellenthin AG, Thompson PD, Sui X, Lee I, Lavie CJ. Running as a key lifestyle medicine for longevity. 2017.
Lee D, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. JACC. 2014;64(5):472.