Run. You’ll Live Longer. (Maybe)

It seems intuitive that running will contribute to your longevity.  It’s well documented that daily exercise contributes to cardiac health, and thus generally a longer life span.  Running is….well….exercise, right?  Hence it’s really easy to draw the linkage that running equals better cardiac health equals longer life.

Not so fast.

According to a study by researchers from the University of South Carolina and the Ochsner Health System (in New Orleans), running up to a certain point does lead to a lower risk of mortality, but higher volumes may actually have adverse health impacts.  This study indicated that runners have about a 20% lower mortality rate than non-runners.  Encouraging?  Yes.  The study further indicated that longer or faster distances (more than 20 miles per week or more than 2-5 runs per week or faster than 5 to 7 miles per hour) does not appear to add to the advantage that runners have over non-runners, and in fact, may diminish that advantage.

The June issue of “Mayo Clinic Proceedings” included a meta-data study of previously published studies of endurance training.  In this case, endurance training (actually “extreme endurance training”) was composed of marathoners, triathletes, professional cyclists and ultra-marathoners – pretty much you and I.  This study concluded that in some cases endurance training is counter productive – and may actually be more harmful than good for our heart, especially in the long-term.  The study concluded “In some individuals, long-term excessive endurance training may cause adverse structural and electrical cardiac remodeling, including fibrosis and stiffening of the atria…”

Here is my take on these studies.  They probably have some merit.  That being said, however, I strongly suspect that there are other studies that have been completed that have different conclusions as to the long-term health impacts of either running or endurance training.  Just like politics, there are at least two sides to every health debate.  Conclusions are often based on a very narrow set of data or circumstances, and aren’t often fully conclusive. 

So keep on running.  Keep on swimming.  Keep on cycling.  It’s fun.  It’s most likely good for you – but like most things, don’t fall off the deep end in terms of going to extremes. 

If you’re interested in reading the actual articles, see below:

  • Abstract from University of SC & Ochsner Health System study, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine is found here.  The abstract is on page 48.
  • Reprint of the Mayo Clinic meta-study can be found here.