Running can have significant health benefits, according to a new paper published on 4 November in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, including longer life, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and even reduced risk of cancer (1).
The benefits of running have been a topic of debate for many years — and in particular, what is the optimal intensity and duration? Is too much running actually bad for you? But it seems health benefits might not depend on the so-called ‘dose’ at all.
The international team of researchers performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 studies including more than 200 000 participants. During follow-up periods of between 5.5 and 35 years, a total of 25,951 participants died.
By pooling data from multiple studies, the authors discovered that any amount of running — even as infrequently as once a month — is associated with 27, 30 and 23 per cent reduction in the risk of all-cause death, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, respectively, compared to no running at all.
Interestingly, lower risk of early death was similar for all running doses, from running not more than one time per week for less than 50 minutes to daily up to a total of 250 minutes. For instance, jogging for 25 minutes once a week can offer immense improvements in health and wellbeing.
However, the potential benefits don’t scale up the more you run. Just like everything else, you can have too much of a good thing. The analysis showed that increasing the dose did not further reduce the risk of mortality. In fact, some studies suggest too much running — more than four hours per week — can actually negate the benefits (2).
However, the authors emphasise that just because no trend was observed between health benefits and dose, does not mean one doesn’t exist. More evidence is needed, in particular, to determine whether there is, indeed, an upper limit to the positive effects of running.
The study was only observational, therefore, there is no way of establishing a cause. Moreover, there were differences among studies between what is actually defined as a run — but certainly more than a few strides in all cases. And since only a few studies were included in the meta-analysis and the methods varied across studies, the results are not definitive.
Still, running definitely seems to be associated with significant health and longevity benefits. The authors conclude that increased participation in running would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity.
The findings certainly provide some motivation for taking up running. And most importantly, any amount of running that you can fit into your schedule — no matter how little — can offer potential health benefits.
(1) Pedisic, Z. et al. Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100493
(2) Schnohr, P, et al. Dose of Jogging and Long-Term Mortality: The Copenhagen City Heart Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.11.023