Why did it have to be running? Wouldn’t a dignified stroll do the trick? Not to mention chess or Tiddlywinks…
This just published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: if more people took up running – and (the good news) they wouldn’t have to run very far or very fast – there would likely be substantial improvements in population health and longevity.
The research team – led by Zeljko Pedisic and several others from the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, Melbourne – started with the proposition that it wasn’t clear if running is effective at reducing the risk of death from any cause and particularly from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Equally unknown was how much running a person would need to do to reap these potential benefits, and whether increasing the frequency, duration, and pace of running – in other words, the “dose” – might be even more advantageous.
Their work was not, however, a new and comprehensive study.
Instead, they systematically reviewed relevant published research and a range of other material including conference presentations, doctoral theses and dissertations in a broad range of academic databases.
Their focus was on material that looked at the association between running/jogging and the risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
They found 14 suitable studies, involving 232,149 people, whose health had been tracked for between 5.5 and 35 years. During this time, 25,951 of the study participants died.
When the study data were pooled, it indicated that any amount of running was associated with a 27% lower risk of death from all causes for both sexes, compared with no running.
Any amount of running was also associated with a 30% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 23% lower risk of death from cancer.
Even small doses of running – for example, once weekly or less, lasting less than 50 minutes each time, and at a speed below eight kilometres an hour – still seemed to indicate significant health/longevity benefits.
So running for 25 minutes less than the recommended weekly duration of vigorous physical activity could still reduce the risk of death.
The research team reckons this makes running a potentially good exercise option for people who cite lack of time as the main reason for avoidance.
But more running – increasing the dose – wasn’t associated with a further lowering of the risk of death from any cause.
Before we all head out to buy a new pair of jogging shoes, it’s important to remember that this is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause.
The researchers caution that the number of included studies was small and that their methods varied considerably, both of which may have influenced the results.
Nevertheless, the research team suggests that any amount of running is better than none.
Ian Connellan is the editor of Cosmos magazine.
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