One Run May Add 7 Hours to Your Life, Study Says

Getting fit for Summer

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

Why Running Is Such Perfect Cardio

Female athlete running on track, low section, focus on shadow

There was once a time, just a few decades ago, when few people ran to stay in shape. Today, running is almost synonymous with exercise. If your goal is to be fit and healthy, you’re either a runner or someone who’s planning to start running really soon (promise).

Running has become so popular, in part, because a mountain of evidence suggests it’s great for a long, disease-free life.

One 2014 study found that running is linked to a 45% drop in risk of death due to cardiovascular disease. “Runners on average lived three years longer compared to non-runners,” says study author D.C. Lee, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University. Those mortality benefits held fairly steady regardless of how fast, how long or how often a person ran.

Lee and his colleagues just published a follow-up report showing even more impressive benefits. Running for about two hours each week was linked to three extra years of life. He and his coauthors also found that running outperforms walking, cycling and some other forms of aerobic exercise when it comes to lengthening life.

Research has also linked running to lower rates of stroke, cancer and metabolic diseases like diabetes, as well as better bone strength. “Weight-bearing exercises like running promote greater bone mineral density,” says Arthur Weltman, a professor and chair of kinesiology at the University of Virginia. Especially as you age and your bones start to weaken, running can help keep the bones of your legs healthy.

Muscles also get stronger with running. “One of the tenets of training is that when you do damage to muscle tissue, it’s stronger after repair,” Weltman says. Your heart is a muscle. And while hard running can initially result in increased levels of proteins associated with heart damage, these levels quickly return to normal, and the heart bounces back stronger than before, he explains.

But in order for that strengthening to occur, you have to give your muscles time to recover. “Depending on your fitness and how hard you go, running can be vigorous, high-intensity exercise,” Weltman says. “If you’re running hard and pushing yourself every day, you have the potential to over-train and do some damage.”

Overtraining is most likely to cause joint-related issues: lower-body aches or strains that may sideline a runner for a few days or weeks. If you always seem to be injured, that’s a good indication you’re not giving yourself enough rest, Weltman says. Running is high-impact exercise, so it may cause pain or injury in people with obesity or those with joint problems—particularly if they don’t allow enough time for recovery between bouts.

But overtraining may lead to more than simple pain or sprains, some recent scientific literature suggests. Research from James O’Keefe, a cardiologist with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, found that doing excessive endurance exercise—especially during middle-age and beyond—could theoretically lead to unhealthy structural changes in the chambers of the heart. His research pegged “too much” somewhere beyond an hour per day of vigorous exercise. More isn’t always better when it comes to running and endurance training.

It’s also important to realize that what’s “vigorous” for one runner is not going to be vigorous for another. “There’s a lot of person-to-person variation that depends on fitness level,” Weltman explains. For older people or those who haven’t broken a sweat in a while, brisk walking might constitute a tough workout.

“I think the best way to exercise and avoid risk of injury revolves around perception of effort, rather than time or duration,” he says. “At least twice a week, you want to exercise at an intensity that you perceive as hard.” At most, you want to alternate between hard and easy days “so your body has 48 hours to recover.”

But what if you’re concerned about running too little, not too much? Even a little running has been shown to pay huge dividends. In Lee’s study, people who ran as little as 30 to 59 minutes a week—just five to 10 minutes a day—lowered their risk of cardiovascular death by 58% compared to non-runners. Even in small doses, running rocks.

By Markham Heid for Time Health

The Hidden Risk of Running a Marathon

Close up of trainers running through mossy terrain

Running is a great workout, and it comes with all of the heart-strengthening benefits of aerobic exercise. But doing it for long distances—like in a marathon—may come with unintended health consequences. A small new study finds that marathon runners can experience short-term kidney injury after the race.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, researchers took blood and urine samples from 22 people who ran the 2015 Hartford Marathon, and looked for evidence of kidney injury. The researchers reported that based on the markers they observed in the samples, 82% of the runners had evidence of stage 1 acute kidney injury after the race. The problem appeared to be short-term, and most people’s kidneys returned to normal within 24 to 48 hours.

Still, the researchers say that their findings underline the fact that running a marathon is a stressful event for the body, and that some people may want to be extra vigilant. “We knew we would find something, but I was surprised by the level [of injury],” says study author Dr. Chirag Parikh, a professor of medicine at Yale University. “It’s comparable to what I see in hospitals.”

More research is needed, but Parikh says that people who have no risk factors for kidney disease probably don’t need to worry. People with diabetes or high blood pressure, or people who are older, may want to work closely with trainers and doctors to keep an eye on their kidney health if they’re running marathons.

Though the researchers did not determine how exactly running a marathon can temporarily hurt kidneys, Parikh says the damage may be due to less blood flow to the kidneys, high core body temperature and dehydration. It’s still unknown whether this short-lived kidney injury can cause cumulative damage, or if some people may not recover in the short-term.

The study is not the first to find that marathons can come with health risks. While it’s clear that getting exercise is important, research suggests that more isn’t always better. A 2015 review published in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports found that while runners in the study lived longer than non-runners, men and women gained the lifesaving benefits of running if they ran at slow or moderate speeds for about one to two hours a week. Among the runners, the people who ran the most had worse survival rates than people who ran less.

Parikh says that his study did not identify who might be at a higher risk, but notes that people over age 40 are increasingly signing up for marathons, and may want to take more precautions. Today, people 40 and older make up nearly 50% of marathon finishers in the U.S., compared to 1980 when this age group made up just 26%.

“Is there a right amount of distance for each person?” says Parikh. “Like everything else, there might be a balance of the benefits and risks. People can find the right distance for them and train their body.”

By Alexandra Sifferlin for Time Health

Tapering: What does that mean?

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Q: I am getting ready to compete in my first half marathon. In my training, I have been following the advice of friends who are runners and consulting books/websites. Race day approaches, and my resources instruct me to begin “tapering.” What does that mean?

Good luck with that race! And, may we suggest that you add the following to your library of training resources: ACSM’s Training Considerations for Novice Recreational Runners, found in the 2014 ACSM’s Certified News. To taper properly you must have trained properly; this resource will help you do that.

There is no one correct way to taper prior to a competitive sporting event, so we will try to give you some general principles to use.

First, let’s define what it means to taper as part of a precompetition training routine. Tapering is a progressive reduction in training loads designed to reduce the physiologic and psychologic stress of training prior to a competition. A successful taper will optimize sports performance. In the case of a half-marathon, it is the final part of an entire training regimen that starts several weeks prior to the race. A successful taper will help the runner avoid doing both too much and too little in the period before a race, allowing the individual to stand on the starting line feeling “fresh” and ready to run a PR, or otherwise reach their goals.

Second, let’s underscore that there is not a great deal of scientific evidence for what constitutes an ideal taper. There are different “recipes” based on a runner’s experience, pre-race training and race distance.

Typical recipes will include having an individual do their final long run (approximately race distance) two weeks prior to race day, in the case of a half marathon. These recipes also suggest a gradual diminishing of mileage and an incorporation of non running cross-training in these final two weeks. Typically, the final two days of a taper will include a marked reduction of any running and even considering avoiding running entirely on the day prior to race.

Tapering is an important part of an overall training regimen for competition. Do it, and as you gain more experience as a runner, you can figure out over time what works best for you.

Q: While training to compete in an upcoming obstacle course race, I’ve been experimenting with different techniques to reduce muscle soreness after workouts. One technique I keep reading about is “cryotherapy.” I recall Kobe Bryant, among other elite athletes, championing the idea of cold water immersion after workouts to enhance recovery. Should I do the same?

Many purported modalities and interventions exist to facilitate post-workout recovery. These include heat/cold modalities, as well as foam rolling. A recent ACSM Q&A reviewed many of these interventions: Optimal Recovery: Practical Implications for the Recreational Athlete. We encourage you to read that!

Various forms of cryotherapy (cold therapy) are used in medicine. For instance, when you go to a doctor to get a wart “burned off,” the procedure is typically done with very cold liquid nitrogen. This is cryotherapy. Special types of cryotherapy are now being considered to treat heart attacks and spinal cord injuries. You are also using a form of cryotherapy when you ice down a tendon after working out.

There is also the type of “whole-body cryotherapy” which Kobe Bryant is reported to have used. Your specific question relates to the use of immersion of parts or all of the body in cold water/cold water immersion (CWI) to facilitate recovery from strenuous workouts.

The evidence for this treatment is mixed, with most studies showing little or no objective benefit.

However, CWI has been shown to improve subjective outcomes of DOMS and RPE. Thus, based on our current understanding of CWI for recovery from exercise: you may experience a placebo effect from the therapy. But if you want to be like Kobe, you may want to give it a try.

A final note of caution: as with many newer therapies, little is known about any potential inadvertent side effects of CWI. One should always interpret case reports with a note of caution, but we would be remiss if we did not share with you a recently published case report describing an abdominal aortic dissection after whole-body cryotherapy. If you are going to do post-workout CWI, we would always encourage you to do this while being observed and with a partner.