Why running is a key lifestyle factor for longevity

By Catherine Orda | Lead photo from Jordan Opelt /Unsplash

It wouldn’t be a stretch to figure out why running is one of the more popular forms of exercise among serious athletes and sports hobbyists: It doesn’t require any equipment, it can be done practically anywhere (and usually on our own terms), and it’s been proven to have long-term health benefits.

While all forms of exercise are generally good, running stands out as possessing a kind of expansiveness, one that allows for not only just fat-burning and muscle-building but also mood improvement and healthy self-reflection—all of which have been proven to fight common risk factors for death. Some studies have actually looked into the idea that running can increase a person’s lifespan, with the most recent one even providing some very specific figures. Here are some of our takeaways from the said study:

 

Runners Are More Likely to Live Longer

Even if you start relatively late in life, or if you do it slowly or in five minute increments a day, or even if you smoke or drink, the fact remains that running improves longevity. In the study, the initial estimate of the researchers is an added three years of extra life. In concrete terms, that means an additional seven hours to your lifespan for every hour that you spend running. But of course we can’t take that number literally. It’s an estimate, after all, and the researchers did point out that the added seven hours is brought on by relatively small amounts of running. The added benefit entailed by every running session gradually lessens as one increases their mileage.

 

Running May Be the Best Form of Exercise

That is, in terms of its capacity to improve life expectancy. Exercising generally reduces the risk for death, but the study found that besides running, no other form of exercise showed any significant potential (or effects that were enough to merit serious comparison with running’s) in increasing life expectancy. People who exercised but were not runners were found to gain a 12 percent benefit from exercising, while runners were found to gain about a 30 percent benefit. This result suggests that running may be 2.5 times better than other forms of exercise.

 

Its Always Good to Be Critical

Despite all these positive claims about running, much has also been written about its heart-damaging potential. So what should we believe? Should we continue to run? In most cases, it’s not really a study or an article that gets people to run. Most people run simply because they love to. They enjoy it; they feel better after doing it. And the correlation between running and improved longevity may have to do with the fact that runners typically lead healthy lives. Some runners may not even know about this correlation, but they continue to run anyway. So a bunch of numbers shouldn’t have such a drastic impact on their behavior and philosophy when it comes to running. That said, it’s always a good idea to be open to and critical of information—even it involves very encouraging numbers.