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Running and life span

Great news! Runners have a 25 to 40 per cent reduced risk of dying prematurely and live approximately three years longer than non-runners. It’s said that an hour of running may add seven hours to your life. No other form of exercise that researchers have looked at shows comparable impacts on life span. BUT more doesn’t always mean better.

Running is good for our health. Research has found running reduces the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more. Sports Science Student Corinna Reinprecht takes us through how it does this and how we can get the most health benefits from our running while not overdoing it.

The health benefits of running

Cancer: It’s thought that roughly a third of all cancers could be avoided by being active and eating healthily. Aerobic exercise, particularly running, may reduce cancer spread (metastasis) by an incredible 72 per cent. Researchers say that high intensity exercise doesn’t just reduce the risk of cancer, it also reduces the risk of recurrence of cancer. One of the ways it does this is by exercise induced ‘reprogramming’ of healthy tissue. By increasing competition for glucose, the primary fuel for cancer cells, vital energy is ‘stolen’ from the cells. Interestingly they found that, in this context, running may be the most beneficial exercise, but swimming, cycling, and rowing are also helpful.

Blood pressure & cholesterol levels: Running lowers your blood pressure. It also lowers your cholesterol levels, reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which is the bad type of cholesterol and increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good type of cholesterol. High blood pressure also reduces and can become normal through consistent physical activity. This is because exercise makes the heart stronger, it therefore pumps more blood with less effort. As a result, the force on the arteries decreases and blood pressure lowers.

Cardiovascular disease: The more you use a muscle, the stronger it gets, that principle also applies to your heart, which is a muscle just like any other in your body. Over time, running strengthens the muscular walls of the heart, increasing its overall efficiency and consistent running minimizes your heart’s workload. Runners have a stronger heart, leading to a lower resting pulse rate, lower blood pressure and a higher intake of oxygen. The lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels that result from running reduce these major risk factors for heart disease and people who start running on a regular basis can decrease their risk for heart disease by 35 to 55 per cent. Running can benefit your circulation in other ways too. It reduces your inactivity which lowers your chance of blood pooling and clotting in your veins.

Bone density: In a study, scientists found that runners have a much healthier bone density than non-runners and even than people who participated in traditional strength training. Bone density is a crucial indicator in the development of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition, where the bones become fragile and break easily from a loss of bone mass.

Mental Health & Mood: Scientists have shown that running vastly improves the quality of your emotional and mental health. Some studies show that regular running can even have the same effects as medication in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. (You should never stop your medication without speaking to your doctor). Exercise plays a big part in releasing stress, which is a big cause of chronic disease. One other great benefit of running is that it makes you happier and boosts your overall mood. When you run, endorphins and serotonin are released in your body, these are chemicals in your brain that improve your mood. Running also improves your memory and ability to learn. 

Sleep: Running has been shown to help you adapt to a normal sleep schedule. Chemicals released during and after running, relax your body and encourage deep sleep. It can however take about four months for your body to get used to the increased activity level. Don’t get discouraged if your new training routine doesn’t improve the quality of your sleep straight away.

Making time for recovery

So back to the statement, ‘More doesn’t always mean better’. While running has numerous positive effects on your health, too much running can be counterproductive for your wellbeing and can even be harmful. Most runners don’t need to worry about this because the majority of people run too little rather than too much, but it’s still an important aspect to keep in mind. It’s crucial to always give your body enough time to recover after a running session and listen to what it’s telling you.

If the following points apply to you, consider a break from running or at least taking it easy:

  • You always feel unusually exhausted after a run
  • Muscle soreness is stopping you from running again
  • You’re experiencing pain in your leg joints
  • You struggle with prolonged low mood and irritability
  • Your performance is declining.

Consistency is key

Research proves that regular exercise (running in particular) of at least 150 minutes per week has major disease fighting benefits. Interestingly, a study from 2014 found, that runners who ran less than an hour per week had the same longevity benefits as runners who clock more than three hours per week. However, those who ran more consistently over a period of six years benefited most. Running consistency seems to play a bigger role in creating health benefits, than the running amount does. Runners who ran consistently had a 29 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause, compared to non-runners. They also had a 50 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

So, in conclusion, running will increase your life span. It does this through significantly decreasing the risk for a number of diseases. Running consistency plays a bigger role in creating health benefits than the amount of running does.

Start running today and keep going! For help with learning to run and running consistently, why not join a 261 Fearless group near you. And if you’re already a runner and wanting to improve the health of women in your community, why not consider becoming a 261 Fearless Coach?



Lee, D. C., Brellenthin, A. G., Thompson, P. D., Sui, X., Lee, I. M., & Lavie, C. J. (2017). Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity. Prog Cardiovasc Dis, 60(1), 45-55. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005

Lee, D. C., Pate, R. R., Lavie, C. J., Sui, X., Church, T. S., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. J Am Coll Cardiol, 64(5), 472-481. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058

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