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Even Small Amount of Running Decreases Risk of Death by Nearly 30%

Health + Wellness

By George Citroner

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the World Health Organization currently recommend either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gardening, doing household chores) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming) every week.

But there's little research looking at the benefits, if any, of exercising less than the 75 minute minimum.


New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds running any amount at all is associated with a significantly reduced chance of dying from any cause.

"Exercise has been shown to reduce many of the factors that lead to heart disease so it reduces diabetes, it reduces hypertension," said Dr. Michael Chan, interventional cardiologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California.

How Far and for How Long to See Benefits?

It's unknown how much running or for how long is needed to reap health benefits, according to researchers. Also unknown is whether increasing how often, fast, and long we run can affect our risk of death from disease.

"To solve the conundrum, we thoroughly searched the scientific literature for studies on this topic and formally combined their results," lead study author Zeljko Pedisic, PhD, associate professor at Victoria University, Australia, told Healthline.

Pedisic and a team at the university's Institute for Health and Sport reviewed relevant published research, conference presentations, and doctoral theses and dissertations in a broad range of academic databases.

"Findings of individual studies on running and the risk of death were inconsistent. While most found beneficial effects of running, some did not find statistically significant associations. Even among those that found positive associations, the effect sizes largely varied," said Pedisic.

They found 14 suitable studies that analyzed the association between running and the risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. Combined, the studies involved more than 232,000 people who had been tracked for up to 35 years.

The findings indicate that any amount of running is associated with a 27 percent lower risk of death from all causes for men and women when compared with no running at all.

Reduced Risk of Death From Heart Disease and Cancer

Running was also associated with a 30 percent lower risk of death from CVD and an impressive 23 percent reduced risk of dying from cancer. However, researchers found no evidence that increasing time spent exercising was associated with any further reduction in the risk of death from any cause.

Most surprising is that even running less than once per week, for under an hour and at less than 6 miles per hour still conferred improved health and longevity, according to researchers.

"It is interesting that we found such benefits even for relatively small amounts of running, such as 1 day a week or 50 minutes a week. Moreover, we found no evidence that the benefits significantly increase or decrease with higher doses of running," said Pedisic.

This means that even exercising for about half the recommended minimum time per week can meaningfully reduce our risk of death. This could make running an ideal activity for those of who want to stay healthy but are short on time.

Adds to Evidence from Previous Studies

In a 2014 study, researchers studied over 55,000 adults over a 15-year period to determine the relationship between running and longevity.

They drew their data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, which involved having participants complete a questionnaire about their running habits. Of this group, 24 percent, reported running as part of their leisure-time exercise.

The runners had experienced a 30 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 45 percent lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke compared to non-runners. The runners also lived 3 years longer on average than those who didn't run.

"The opposite of exercise is sedentary habits. The more you move and the more active you are the less your risk of disease," said Chang

Similar to Pedisic's findings, this study showed that people who ran fewer than 51 minutes, less than 6 miles, and slower than 6 miles per hour, only one to two times per week had a much lower risk of dying compared to those who didn't run.

"Since time is one of the strongest barriers to participate in physical activity, the study may motivate more people to start running and continue to run as an attainable health goal for mortality benefits," said study author DC (Duck-Chul) Lee, PhD, associate professor in the Iowa State University Kinesiology Department in a statement.

The Bottom Line

A new study finds that running much less than the amount experts currently recommend can still significantly reduce the risk of death from cancer and heart disease.

These findings are good news for people who feel they don't have enough time to exercise — since even small, infrequent bouts of running have shown health benefits.

Experts emphasize that the more active you are, the less you run the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Reposted with permission from Healthline.

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