Study finds that runners tend to live longer and have fewer strokes and heart problems

July 28

THE QUESTION Regular running can be a big boost to cardiovascular fitness. But do you need to run long distances at a fast pace to reap the benefits?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 55,137 adults, mostly men, who averaged 44 years old at the start of the study. Nearly a fourth of the group were runners. Over the next 15 years, 3,413 people died, with 1,217 of the deaths attributed to cardiovascular problems. Runners were 45 percent less likely to have died from a cardiovascular issue — heart disease, sudden cardiac death or stroke, for instance — and 30 percent less likely to have died for any reason than were those who didn’t run. Runners also lived, on average, about three years longer than non-runners.

Speed, distance and running frequency made little difference: Even those who ran least often (once or twice a week), least far (less than six miles a week) and least rapidly (less than 6 mph) achieved benefits comparable to those who ran faster and farther. Running regularly for at least six years, however, was associated with the best mortality odds, with a 50 percent lower risk for cardiovascular-related death. The researchers noted that “not running was almost as important as hypertension” for increasing mortality risk.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults. Physical activity of any sort helps reduce the risk for various chronic diseases. Physical activity guidelines vary by age, but guidelines suggest that adults up to age 65 should do 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity (such as running), plus muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. Less than half of all adults in the United States meet these guidelines.

CAVEATS Data on running came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires. The researchers noted a lack of adequate dietary information, which might have affected the findings.

FIND THIS STUDY August issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

LEARN MORE ABOUT the health benefits of physical activity at www.cdc.gov (search for “physical activity guidelines”) and www.heart.org (click on “Getting Healthy,” then “Physical Activity”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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