Running is a simple and efficient way to exercise: all you need is a pair of shoes. It’s been shown to lower a person’s risk for heart disease and cancer, possibly by regulating weight and blood pressure. Now a recent study, published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease last month, reports that people who run tend to live about three years longer than those who don’t.
The researchers, who have studied the benefits of running in the past, decided to look at available research and investigate whether other forms of exercise like walking and biking provide the same benefits, or if runners have a special advantage.
The study’s authors found that while other types of exercise like walking and cycling were linked to a longer lifespan, it wasn’t to the same degree as running. The researchers calculated that a one-hour run may translate to an additional seven hours added to a person’s life. The benefits capped out at about three years, and the researchers found that the improvements in life expectancy leveled out at about four hours of running per week. More running wasn’t found to be significantly worse for a person, but the researchers say there are no further apparent longevity benefits.
However, the researchers only found an associational relationship between running and longevity. Their data showed that people who run tend to live longer lives, but not that running specifically increases a person’s lifespan. Runners tend to have other healthy lifestyle behaviors like maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and only drinking low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol, the authors note. Still, the findings suggest running is an especially effective form of exercise.
The study also found that runners who also do other types of physical activity have the same lower risk of early death, though combining running with other exercise is “the best choice,” the researchers write. (Federal guidelines recommend both aerobic exercise, like running, and strength training for optimal health.) They also acknowledge that it’s not yet clear how much running is safe, or if a person can run too much.
“Running may have the most public health benefits, but is not the best exercise for everyone since orthopedic or other medical conditions can restrict its use by many individuals,” the authors concluded.
By Alexandra Sifferlin for Time Health