Let’s start by stating the obvious: we all know exercise is good for us. Now that we have that basic fact out in the open, let’s also acknowledge that simply knowing something is good for us does not mean we will do it!
After years of talking with people about their workout habits and goals, a frequent theme that has emerged in countless conversations is ‘time.’ More specifically, how there’s not enough of it in the day to regularly exercise, I get it, even if I may not always agree with the prioritization practices that often bump working out from the day’s to-do list. For example, someone may argue that they are too busy to exercise for 30 minutes while acknowledging they spend an average of two hours per night on social media.
Knowing how many people are well-intentioned about exercising more often but often fall short of their goal to increase their weekly frequency, I’m happy to bring attention to a new study about running. If you’re a non-runner, you may already be thinking, “I’m not a runner, not interested!” but if you hang in there for a minute, you’ll see why this study is noteworthy.
Studies about running are nothing new; there are plenty of in-depth reports published that highlight the fact that the activity brings significant and measurable benefits to overall health and longevity. What is new, though, is the finding that the life-extending benefits associated with running are not only for the high-mileage people who lace up for runs most days of the week.
Dr. James O’Keefe, Director of Preventive Cardiology at St.Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, was cited in the New York Times recently (Short Distance Runs Have Major Health Benefits - The New York Times (nytimes.com) about the health advantages that even a minimal amount of slow or moderately paced running can bring. In one study of 5,000 adults in the age range of 20 to 92, running between one and 2.4 hours per week showed a more significant reduction in mortality than non-runners and even runners who ran at faster speeds for longer distances. Related research shows that most of the benefits of running are experienced “at the front end,” and even running less than a mile a few days a week is enough to offer meaningful improvements to cardiovascular health and longevity.
The theory of why these small runs pack such a big punch in health benefits is related to a group of molecules called exerkines, so named because various organ systems in our body release these molecules during exercise. While studying exerkines is a relatively new field, the early research indicates they are instrumental in reducing harmful inflammation and the generation of new blood cells.
In addition to the physical ‘fountain of youth’ aspect of short runs, the mental benefits are also of noteworthy significance. As little as 2.5 hours per week is enough to reduce the risk of depression by 25%, and if that is still too much time to commit to, scaling back to half the amount of 1.25 hours a week still brings an 18% reduction in the risk of depression compared to those who didn’t exercise at all.
Here’s the bottom line for anyone who is a non-runner: with the knowledge we have now, you can be confident that adding even the smallest amount of slow running to your weekly routine will bring big results to your physical and mental health and longevity. Maybe the best part in our time-crunched world is that the benefits start adding up within minutes of getting those steps in. I hope you try it in the coming weeks, and as always, I suggest checking out your local Rail Trail for an ideal fall backdrop to enjoy some fresh air and beautiful scenery on your quest to live your healthiest life. Remember, just because you have not run in the past is not a reason to prevent you from trying it. Every new day is a blank page to write a new entry in our life story!