Does Running Help You Live Longer? The Life-Extending Benefits of Running

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Do runners live longer? And does running help you live longer?

Want to know if your running habit is going to pay off in the long run and translate to years added to your life?

Or are you someone who’s looking to live a healthier future and wondering whether starting to run is the way to go?

Short answer: yes, runners do live longer.

Stick around to find out why – and specifically what type of running routine is optimal.

In this article, we are going to delve into some of the research and science behind running’s life-lengthening benefits.

We will explore,

  • Whether and how running helps to prevent deadly diseases.
  • Whether elite athletes experience more life-lengthening benefits.
  • Exactly how much you have to run to live longer.
  • And how to make running a part of your weekly routine.


Let’s jump in!

does running help you live longer

Does running prevent deadly diseases?

In an effort to find out the answer to the question, ‘does running help you live longer?’, Australian researchers analyzed 14 studies that included more than 232,000 people.

These participants had their health tracked for between 5.5 and 35 years. During this lengthy study period, nearly 26,000 participants died of natural causes.

The collective data from all 23,000 people indicated that any amount of running, however small, was associated with a whopping 30% decrease in risk of death from heart disease, and an impressive 23% lower risk of death from all cancers.

Why do runners live longer?- Heart Disease Prevention

The World Health Organization cites the world’s biggest killer as heart disease.

Heart disease is responsible for 16% of the world’s total deaths.

According to Dr. DeLucia for Bronson Health, “Those who start running on a regular basis decrease their risk for heart disease by 35 to 55 percent.”

And why is this?

Dr. Delucia explains that “Running helps prevent blood clots in the arteries and blood vessels. It also supports healthy blood flow, blood pressure and cholesterol.”

So, running = a healthier heart.

Related: How To Start Running At 50 (And Beyond!)

does running help you live longer

Why do runners live longer?- Cancer prevention

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and according to the World Health Organization, the disease accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 alone.

Although, the causes of cancer vary drastically.

Many causes stem from external factors which are beyond our individual control, such as; exposure to asbestos, radiation, or arsenic.

However, we do have the capacity to reduce our cancer risk to some extent.

The World Health Organisation states that ‘Between 30 and 50% of cancers can currently be prevented by avoiding risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies.’

Within these evidence-based prevention strategies are listed;

  • doing physical activity on a regular basis,
  • and maintaining a healthy body weight.

In comes running!

Having a running routine is not only a great way to get out there and active on a regular basis, but it can also be a healthy and effective way of maintaining healthy body weight, or of losing weight for those looking to do so.

does running help you live longer

But how can running prevent cancer?

How does running help you live longer? According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center doing more physical activity (Aka running!), and maintaining a healthy body weight can prevent cancer for the following reasons;

  • Running helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese raises your risk for several types of cancer.
  • Running helps your body regulate hormone levels. Increased levels of some hormones can increase your risk of developing cancer.
  • Running speeds up your digestion, which may reduce the time it takes for potentially harmful substances to move through the colon.

Do elite runners live longer?

We’ve seen some of the benefits that running can have for your overall health. But do runners live longer if they go beyond just casual running, to become elite athletes?

Well, in a research study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, they set out to answer the question ‘does running help you live longer?’, and they found that elite athletes had an 80 percent reduction in mortality risk compared to lower performers.

does running help you live longer

The researchers at the Cleaveland Clinic studied 122,007 patients. These patients underwent extensive exercise treadmill testing during a 22 year period.

From the study, the researchers concluded that ‘increased respiratory fitness was directly associated with reduced long-term mortality, with no limit on the positive effects of aerobic fitness.

Extreme aerobic fitness was associated with the greatest benefit, particularly in older patients (70 and older) and in those with hypertension.’

What exactly does this mean?

According to this study, there is no upper limit to the benefits of increased cardiovascular fitness. In other words, the more you run, the healthier you will be.

Wael Jaber, M.D., Cleveland Clinic cardiologist and senior author to the study writes “Aerobic fitness is something that most patients can control. And we found in our study there is no limit to how much exercise is too much”.

So, if this study holds true, then elite athletes benefit most from the life-lengthening effects of running due to the sheer number of hours they put in to pounding the pavements, track, or trails.

does running help you live longer

How To Get Started: Play the long game

Watch out, runners! More is not always more.

It is important to build up your weekly mileage gradually in order to avoid overuse injuries such as IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.

Does running help you live longer if you treat it as a phase? No!

Jumping straight into a high mileage training plan from nothing, just because that’s what the elites do, is not a great way to make your running career sustainable.

Sustainability is key.

Seek to make running a natural part of your lifestyle. A good way to do this is to integrate it slowly into your routine. Start out with lower mileage and gradually build up your weekly distance.

The 10% rule is commonly thrown around within the running community. This rule states that you should only increase your running distance by a marginal 10% each week.

This rule is a good place to start. It will help you to make running sustainable, and thus a life-lengthening part of your weekly routine.

does running help you live longer

How much do you have to run to live longer?

But do runners live longer only if they train like elite athletes?

No! I have good news for all you casual or newbie runners!

You don’t need to sign up for an ultramarathon or to go pro to experience the life-lengthening benefits of running.

One study, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that running for even as little as 50 minutes just once a week at a pace slower than 6mph (that’s 9.66 kph) was enough to be ‘protective’.

You can think of that as lacing up your running shoes for two 25 minute slow jogs twice a week.

Or even dividing that into three 17 minute jogs! That’s doable, even for a newbie runner.

does running help you live longer

Running to live, not to evade death

It is easy to get bogged down by nasty statistics; how many people die from each deadly disease, how elite runners technically reap the greatest health benefits.

Obviously, it’s good to increase your activity levels and get out there and run more often, but fear of death is not a good reason to do so!

The problem with using fear as a motivator is that it is very limited in its ability to keep you motivated and inspired in the long term.

Instead, try to find a love for running.

Finding hope and joy in the discipline will make you much more likely to stick to it, and therefore much more likely to experience its life-lengthening benefits.

But how do you fall in love with running?

Focus on the positives. How do you feel afterward? Isn’t it nice being able to eat more?!

Don’t you like exploring new places on foot? Do you feel the mind-clearing benefits?

does running help you live longer

To summarise

Do runners live longer?

On an individual basis, it is hard to say. But as a general pattern – yes they do!

Does running help you live longer?

Yes! It certainly does.

5 key points from this article:

  • Any amount of running is associated with a reduction in heart disease risk by 30%.
  • Any amount of running is associated with a reduction in terminal cancer risk by 23%.
  • There is no upper limit for the health benefits of running- the more the better!
  • The life lengthening effects of running start from as little as just 50 minutes of running a week.
  • Let the life giving benefits of running inspire you, not the its death-defying associations!
does running help you live longer

Want to increase your lifespan?

So you’ve heard all about the life-lengthening benefits of running, but don’t know where to begin.

Check out our resources on How To Start Running. Click Here!

And if you’re already a runner but are inspired to set a goal and crank up your training. Check out these plans:

For 10k Training Plans Click Here

For Half Marathon Training Plans Click Here

For Marathon Training Plans Click Here

For Ultramarathon Training Plans Click Here

Photo of author
Maria Andrews is a runner, adventure lover, and UESCA certified Ultramarathon Coach. When she's not running around the woods or plotting adventures, she's spending time with her nearest and dearest, cooking up a storm, or working on Marathon Handbook's sister website, yogajala.com :)

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