Intense Running: Does It Really Improve Your Longevity? The Answer May Surprise You

There is some truth to “everything in moderation” according to a recent study conducted in Denmark that analyzed the running patterns and risk of death in both moderate joggers and intense runners. According to the study, those who were moderate joggers, or defined as those who ran at a speed of 5 miles per hour, (also known as a 12 minute mile) for no longer than 2.5 hours a week were far more likely to outlive their sedentary counterparts, which was expected, but also their intense runner counterparts, defined as those who run 7 mph (or around an 8 minute mile) for more than 4 hours per week. This latter group would likely include marathon runners.

Researchers analyzed information from about 1,000 healthy joggers ages 20 to 86, and about 400 people who were healthy, but did not jog, and were mostly sedentary. The analysis showed that light joggers were about 78 percent less likely to die over the 12-year study than those who were sedentary. It also showed that intense runners were about as likely to die in the 12-year period as those who are sedentary.

Of course, correlation does not equal causation in research, but the length of that study is enough that warrants researchers to want to know more and infer some conclusions from the data extracted.

Study co-author Dr. Peter Schnohr, of the Copenhagen City Heart Study and Frederiksberg Hospital in Denmark, said that there were some truths he felt could be taken from the study.

“The finding suggests there may be an upper limit for exercise dosing that is optimal for health benefits. If your goal is to decrease risk of death and improve life expectancy, jogging a few times a week at a moderate pace is a good strategy. Anything more is not just unnecessary, it may be harmful.”

While the reasons for this remain unclear, but Dr. Karol Watson, co-director of preventive cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that many previous studies have the same conclusions and she agrees with Dr. Peter Schnohr’s advice.

“[Humans] weren’t meant to do mountain biking or marathon running every day… and you don’t have to, in order to live longer.”

Other experts noted that more research is needed to determine whether there really is an upper limit on how much exercise is good for you, and that there may have been some internal factors in the study that were difficult to control for, such as the fact that researchers relied on participants to reports how long and how fast they ran, and those reports may not have been entirely accurate.

Overall, however, it’s good news for the everyday person. Most people would be able to work in 1 to 2.5 hours a week of moderate jogging, which has been shown to significantly improve longevity.