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Less could be more when it comes to the healthy-heart rewards of running: A new study has found that people who ran just 50 minutes or less per week received the same benefit — three extra years of life — as those who ran more than three hours weekly.
“This study encourages inactive people to participate in more physical activity including running,” Dr. D.C. Lee, lead researcher and assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, told Yahoo Health. He noted that the two big surprises of the study, published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, were that “we can get significant mortality benefits by running even 30 to 60 minutes per week, which is below the recommendations by the World Health Organization and the US government,” and also that the benefits matched those of the longer-distance runners. Though Lee cautioned that more studies are still needed to determine the most optimal amount of running for different populations, he said, “It is true that even little is better than none.”
Compared with non-runners, all the runners had a 30 percent lower risk of death in general and a 45 percent lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke. Runners on average lived three years longer compared to non-runners. The benefits were the same no matter how long, far, frequently or fast people ran.
Also, regarding running behavior patterns, researchers found that people who ran consistently over a period of six years had, on average, the most significant benefits — including a 29 percent lower risk of death in general and a 50 percent lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke.
For the study, Lee and six other researchers sought evidence of a relationship between running and longevity by examining data from a survey-based study called the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. The study included details on 55,137 adults between the ages of 18 and 100 (mean age of 44) from a 15-year period, with 24 percent of participants noting running as part of their exercise routine. Within the study period, 3,413 participants died, including 1,217 whose deaths were related to cardiovascular disease.
The findings are noteworthy for several reasons, including that running as an exercise often comes with conflicting information regarding its healthiness. One recent study from the Mid-America Heart Institute, for example, found that too much running could increase one’s mortality risk. While Lee said that this new study did not find evidence of those negative effects, he does think more research is needed regarding the “upper threshold” of running.
“Running is a vigorous-intensity activity, so it is related to injuries and other potential negative effects on health,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe there is just one ideal activity, as people run “not only for health, but also for competition, fitness, stress relief, socialization, or fun.”
But the biggest takeaway, according to Dr. Michael Scott Emery, co-chair of the American College of Cardiology’s sports and exercise cardiology council, might be for people who don’t run or work out at all. “Any amount of exercise will help improve your overall health, particularly cardiovascular health — even just 5 to 10 minutes of running a day, according to these findings,” Emery told Yahoo Health. “I don’t think running is ideal for everyone, but you can probably extrapolate this to any exercise that is the equivalent in metabolic demand,” like biking, for example.
He pointed out that walking for the same amount of time is not as beneficial — as does an editorial accompanying the study’s publication on Monday, in which Dr. Chi Pang Wen, of Taiwan’s National Health Research Institutes, notes, “A 5-min run is as good as 15-min walk, and a 25-min run can generate benefits that would require four times longer to accomplish by walking.”
Still, Emery said, “The biggest message is just to get up and move. Be active. Just do whatever you enjoy.”