Jogging, walking, swimming, running, biking, dancing, gardening. Which type of exercise is linked to the longest lifespans? To find out, scientists recently analyzed data from several large long-term studies that tracked the physical activity of thousands of adults.
Their answer: running tops everything. Someone running their whole adult life, for instance, will live on average about three years longer than someone who didn’t run at all.
But don’t fret if you didn’t start years ago, because the life-extending power of running seems to apply to any age. The scientists calculate that, on the average, every hour of running is associated with a seven hours of longer life, no matter how old you are.
Why is running so powerful?
It lowers a whole range of risk factors for chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, too much body fat, insulin resistance, and high blood sugar. Runners have a 45 percent to 70 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks or strokes and a 30 percent to 50 percent lower risk of dying from cancer.
Born to run.
Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, says that the human skeleton is ideally suited for running long distances. The design of the human neck, for example, enables us to keep our heads still, helping us avoid falls and injuries as we move.
And we can run for a long time without overheating and stopping because, unlike other animals, we dissipate heat through our skin in sweat. Other creatures have to stop and pant periodically to cool off. We humans can just keep moving.
What about those of us with arthritic knees or some other problem that prevents us from running?
Other exercises like brisk walking, biking, or swimming also may help us live longer, the researchers found. The benefit is just not as great as running.
People who were physically active in non-running exercise were 12 percent less likely to die compared with the physically inactive during the studies the scientists examined. Those whose only exercise was running were 30 percent less likely to die.
Caveat: The studies the researchers examined were observational studies that followed people’s customary behavior and looked for correlations with their health. That means these studies can’t prove that running caused the health benefits, only that runners enjoy the benefits. It’s always possible that something else about runners, something the researchers didn’t think of or couldn’t measure, made the big difference.
The lesson: If you can, run. Run outdoors or run indoors on a treadmill if you want the biggest bang from your exercise.
Source: Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity. Lee DC, Brellenthin AG, Thompson PD, Sui X, Lee IM, Lavie CJ. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2017 Mar 29. pii: S0033-0620(17)30048-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005.
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