Benefits of Leisure Running – The Evidence

In July alone there are 33 listed races on the Runner’s World Event calendar. The races range from 5km runs, to the unbelievable 160km long Washie 100 Miler race in the Eastern Cape.


Surely South Africans love the road and trails, and some are prepared to run for 26 hours to get to the finish line. We have heard in different ways that exercise is good for us. But how so? What does evidence say about the benefit of running to our health?


The Aerobic Center Longitudinal Study conducted over 15 years in Dallas Texas found that runners had 30% and 45% lower risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality respectively, compared to non runners after adjustment for potential confounders. These associations were consistent regardless of sex, age, BMI, health conditions, smoking status, and alcohol consumption. Furthermore, the study found that runners had a 3 year life expectancy benefit compared to non nonrunners. All-cause mortality refers to any other cause of death which may be accidents, cancers, infections et cetera. Simply put, runners have an overall 30% reduced chance of dying in general, and a bigger chance, that is 45%, of dying specifically from heart and blood vessel problems.


The study seems to suggest that even a little bit of running is much better than no running at all. In the dose-response analyses runners who ran the least, that is less than 51minutes per week, had lower risks of all-cause and CVD mortality compared with nonrunners. These mortality benefits were similar between lower and higher doses of weekly running time, which suggests that it doesn’t matter too much how much one runs – just doing it reduces the chances of developing hypertension, angina, heart attacks, type two diabetes and strokes.


Moral of the story? Running, even 5 to 10 min a day and at a slow pace of 9.6km/hr is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.


In subsequent articles we will look closer at how much is too much, how much is too little and also investigate the psychological benefits of running.

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