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Grueling Exercise Not Required to Lengthen Life

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In 2006, 38 million people took part in one simple athletic pursuit. In 2017 the numbers grew to 60 million, an increase of 44 percent in just eleven years.

The reported increase is so huge I almost doubt the stats. But that’s what the poll-takers claim.

Over the last few decades it's become one of the most popular health activities, not just in the US, but around the world. What is it?Running. Now a new study reports that running, even at a slow pace, for less than an hour, just once a week, will add years to your life. It gets even better: you don’t have to run the whole 50 minutes in one day. Apparently you can do shorter runs three or four days a week.

Running offers a number of health benefits. For example, running boosts heart health and brain health and at the same time reduces the risk of hypertension, high blood cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

That’s killing a lot of birds with one amazing stone.

But the sport doesn't come without risks.

In fact, six out of ten runners experience injuries severe enough for them to take time out from the exercise. These injuries commonly occur in the feet, knees and shins. Although rare, there is also the risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest.

Even so, the clear overall benefits make it a positive and healthy activity as long as you do it sensibly, within your limitations.

However, when most people think of running, they think of hard work. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately, reaping the health rewards of running is easier than you might believe.

Lowers Risk of Death By More Than a Quarter

A study led by Dr. Željko Pedišić, Associate Professor of Public Health at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, investigated the health benefits of running.

His research group combined the results of 14 studies involving 232,149 participants, of which one in ten were runners. The various studies followed participants for periods that varied between 5.5 and 35 years, aiming to discover if any link exists between running and risk of death. During the study period 25,951 people died.

Taking into account age, gender, health status, weight and lifestyle factors, when they compared those who ran with non-runners, they found runners
had a:
  • 23 percent lower risk of death from cancer
  • 27 percent lower risk of death from all causes
  • 30 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease
The researchers then dug deeper to see whether it mattered how often, how long or how fast you run, and now here’s the surprise: they were unable to detect any trend.Significant health benefits were seen even when people ran just once a week for 50 minutes at a slow pace. You can put in more work if you want, but as far as these researchers can determine, you will reap no greater reduction in the risk of death.

"This is good news," Dr. Pedišić wrote, "for those who don't have much time on their hands for exercise."

The risks that come with running are also greatly reduced because of the short time, duration and gentle pace needed.

Getting Started

Dr. Pedišić offers the following advice for those who want to take up running for the health benefits.

"Start slow and gradually increase the pace, duration and weekly frequency. Set your aim at 50 minutes a week or more, and run at a comfortable speed. Be persistent, but don’t let yourself run out of steam.

"The benefits will be similar, regardless of whether you do it in one go or in multiple sessions spread across the week."

For those who are not keen on the solitary nature of the activity Dr. Pedišić suggests joining a running group or organized event. This adds motivation and provides a social experience.

And for those who really wouldn't enjoy running he suggests swimming, tennis, cycling and aerobics, since these activities provide health benefits that "are comparable to the ones we found for running."

His sentiments are echoed by Dr. Charlie Foster of Bristol University, who chairs the UK chief medical officers’ expert committee for physical activity.

He advises those who find the thought of running to be nothing less than sheer torture to:

"Find the activity you enjoy the most and stick with it. But if you can’t run, walk as much as you can."

And that’s what I do: a daily half-hour walk. At age 68, I’ve developed arthritic problems that rule out running. You should be mindful of your own limitations. And if you don’t have any now, you may get some if you overdo running!

Running puts a lot of stress on hip joints, knees and ankles. And old bones and muscles tend to be thinner and weaker than they were when you were young. Be healthy – but be sensible.

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