Running is a good, cheap way of getting the heart pumping for some exercise. But how much is enough to get the benefits?
According to a new study, any amount of regular running, even as little as 50 minutes once a week, can dramatically reduce the risk of death.
And it doesn't appear to matter how long or fast you run, just getting out there is all it takes to improve your health significantly.
Researchers from Victoria University analysed 14 studies into the association between running and the risk of death, comprising more than 230,000 people.
The results showed that runners had a 27 per cent lower risk of death from all causes; a 30 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease; and a 23 per cent lower risk of death from cancer compared to those who didn't run.
The paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that the lower risk of death applied to all runners who ran at least once a week for up to 50 minutes.
Nearly 26,000 deaths were recorded during follow-ups that occurred between 51/2 and 35 years later. Increased amounts of running did not reduce the risk any further.
"It's not just any running," said the study's lead author associate professor Zeljko Pedisic. "If you run once a year it will most certainly not affect your health the same way as if you ran once a week, that's clear."
While high-intensity interval training is the current trend in fitness, this study focused on sustained lower intensity exercise like jogging. Those who ran faster did not get an increased benefit.
A running pace of 9.5km/h was considered sufficient enough to help fight off the risk of death. That's the equivalent of running a kilometre in just over six minutes.
Associate Professor Pedisic said he hoped the findings would encourage more people to start exercising because it had shown that any running was better than nothing.
Around one half of Australian adults do not meet national public health recommendation for physical activity, he said. Authorities recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
"We're talking about lowering the risk, it doesn't mean you personally as an individual will benefit from it. But it's a game of odds."
More than 1.35 million Australians aged 15 and over take part in running, with the vast majority of those averaging more than one run a week.
While the benefits of running were significant, Professor Pedisic said it was not a reason to ignore other elements of a healthy lifestyle, such as diet.
"It's quite a substantial reduction," he said. "But running is not a silver bullet."
One limitation of the research was that some studies did not make adjustments for runners or non-runners who were doing other exercise, which could lead to an under or overestimation of the results.
Another was that participants were typically only excluded from the studies if they already had cardiovascular disease or cancer, not other conditions that could lead to early death.
- SMH/The Age
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