Running reduces death risk; seniors’ activity boosts mobility

July 28, 2014

Even 5 minutes of running reduces risk of death

Running for only a few minutes a day or at slow speeds may significantly reduce a person’s risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to someone who does not run, according to a study published July 28 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Exercise is well-established as way to prevent heart disease and it is component of an overall healthy life, but it is unclear whether there are health benefits below the level of 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity, such as running, recommended by the U.S. government and World Health Organization.

The study, led by Dr. D.C. Lee of Iowa State University, began at the Arnold School when Lee was conducting post-doctoral research in the Department of Exercise Science. Arnold School researchers Drs. Russ Pate, Mei Sui and Steve Blair contributed to the study.

Researchers studied 55,137 adults between the ages of 18 and 100 over a 15-year period to determine whether there is a relationship between running and longevity. Data was drawn from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, where participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their running habits. In the study period, 3,413 participants died, including 1,217 whose deaths were related to cardiovascular disease. In this population, 24 percent of the participants reported running as part of their leisure-time exercise.

Compared with non-runners, the runners had a 30 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 45 percent lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke. Runners on average lived three years longer compared to non-runners. Also, to reduce mortality risk at a population level from a public health perspective, the authors concluded that promoting running is as important as preventing smoking, obesity or hypertension.

The benefits were the same no matter how long, far, frequently or fast participants reported running. Benefits were also the same regardless of sex, age, body mass index, health conditions, smoking status or alcohol use.

The study showed that participants who ran less than 51 minutes, fewer than six miles, slower than six miles per hour, or only one to two times per week had a lower risk of dying compared to those who did not run.

Lee said the researchers found that runners who ran less than an hour per week have the same mortality benefits compared to runners who ran more than three hours per week. Thus, it is possible that “more” may not be the better in relation to running and longevity.

Researchers also looked at running behavior patterns and found that those who persistently ran over a period of six years on average had the most significant benefits, with a 29 percent lower risk of death for any reason and 50 percent lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke. 

“Since time is one of the strongest barriers to participate in physical activity, the study may motivate more people to start running and continue to run as an attainable health goal for mortality benefits,” Lee said.

“Running may be a better exercise option than more moderate intensity exercises for healthy but sedentary people since it produces similar, if not greater, mortality benefits in five to 10 minutes compared to the 15 to 20 minutes per day of moderate intensity activity that many find too time consuming,” Lee said.

JAMA study: Activity program for older adults improves mobility

Participation in a structured moderate-intensity physical activity program, compared with a health education intervention, significantly reduced the risk of major mobility disability, according to a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In this study, major mobility disability was defined as loss of ability to walk 400 meters, or about a quarter mile. Mobility, the ability to walk without assistance, is a critical characteristic for functioning independently. Reduced mobility, common in older adults, is an independent risk factor for illness, hospitalization, disability and death.

Limited evidence suggests that physical activity may help prevent mobility disability; however, there are no definitive clinical trials examining whether physical activity prevents or delays mobility disability, according to background information in the article.

The study was conducted by Dr. Marco Pahor of the University of Florida, Gainsville, and colleagues with the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study. Dr. Steve Blair of the Arnold School is a member of the LIFE study group.

Sedentary men and women (age 70 to 89 years), who were able to walk 400 meters, were randomly assigned to a structured, moderate-intensity physical activity program conducted in a center and at home or to a health education program.

Those in the physical activity program participated in aerobic, resistance. and flexibility training activities. The health education program featured upper extremity stretching exercises and workshops on topics relevant to older adults. They participated for an average of 2.6 years. Participants were enrolled at eight centers across the country. 

Major mobility disability was experienced by 30.1 percent of participants in the physical activity group and 35.5 percent of those in the health education group. Persistent mobility disability (two consecutive major mobility disability assessments or major mobility disability followed by death) was experienced by 14.7 percent of participants in the physical activity group and 19.8 percent of participants in the health education group.

A subgroup with lower physical function at study entry, representing 45 percent of the study population, received considerable benefit from the physical activity intervention.

According to the study’s authors, “These results suggest the potential for structured physical activity as a feasible and effective intervention to reduce the burden of disability among vulnerable older persons, in spite of functional decline in late life. To our knowledge, the LIFE study is the largest and longest duration randomized trial of physical activity in older persons.”

email this page       print this page

Columbia, SC 29208 • 803-777-7000 •