The biggest motivator I had when I chose running as my THING was a fact that I first came across in a 2013 British Cardiac Society study. The researchers in that study followed 1,878 joggers and 10,158 non-joggers over the course of 35 years and found that the age-adjusted increase in survival as a result of jogging was 6 years in both men and women. In other words, joggers in the study lived, on average, 6 years longer than non-joggers after controlling for age.
That certainly got my attention, but I was still skeptical. To squeeze an extra 6 years out of life, these people must be insanely dedicated runnners. I was picturing people with ironman tattoos on their calves and 26.2 stickers on the back of their cars. Shockingly, the researchers found the opposite to be true:
“These remarkable benefits of jogging are most pronounced for those who jog between 1 and 2.5 hours per week, at a slow to moderate pace, at a frequency of about 2-3 times per week.”
When I read that, I thought, “Wait. I can run slowly for 1 or 2 hours per week and live 6 years longer? This sounds too good to be true.”
Not only is it true, things actually get better for those of us who are slow runners. The researchers go on to explain:
“For those doing higher volume and higher-intensity running, the long-term mortality rates were not significantly different than non-joggers.”
The authors even suggest that overdoing running diminishes the remarkable gains in longevity conferred by moderate jogging. In simple terms, this massive 3-decade study suggests that my life-expectancy is better off if I casually jog 2-3 times a week rather than push myself hard for hours each week. I read more studies and came across similar findings over and over again.
A 2014 study compared approximately 13,000 runners with 42,000 non-runners over 15 years and found that the runners had a 3-year life expectancy increase when they ran just 1-2 times per week at a total distance of less than 6 miles per week.
A 2017 study of 55,000 adults suggested that every 1 hour spent running provides an additional 7 hours of extended life.
A 2013 study found that after a run, participants experienced significant psychological benefits, including feeling refreshed, enjoying the exercise, and feeling calm. Interestingly, the results of this study suggested that the length or difficulty of the run is unimportant in revealing these positive changes.
A 2018 study compared 865 5k race participants with 57,700 non-runners and found that the runners scored significantly higher on satisfaction with life as a whole, satisfaction with health, and personal well-being.
This 2012 study found that raw beetroot consumption resulted in a 3% faster finishing time in a 5k race. That one wasn’t exactly helpful, but the fact that someone published this study made me laugh.
By this point in my research, the scientific data had led me to three conclusions:
Runners live somewhere between 3 and 6 years longer than non-runners.
Compared to non-runners, runners are more satisfied with life and have higher levels of personal well-being.
Runners enjoy these major benefits at surprisingly achievable levels of exercise.
After sharing these research findings with you, I want to reinforce two takeaways:
Running is arguably the most cost-effective lifestyle medicine for your health. I hope that just thinking about gaining 7 hours of life for every 1 hour spent running makes you want to give running a shot.
You can reap these massive health benefits by running just 1 hour per week. If you’re reading this and you’ve never been a runner, I challenge you to try running for between 30 and 60 minutes this week. If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. Since you’re running as part of My Next Thing, I'm going to help you find a running plan that fits your current running ability and your future goals. Steps 2 - 4 will help you get running shoes, set your running goals, create a running plan, and stay healthy and injury-free while you’re running this month. Don’t forget that you always have the running inspiration page if you need motivation to get out there.
In order to complete this step, I want you to think about the following sentence (and yeah I'm rolling my eyes with you, but I wouldn't be asking you to do this if it wasn't important).
"Starting right now I am a runner."
Step 1 is complete when you actually believe that is true. In step 2 we’re going to get you into a good pair of running shoes.