Short, slow running sessions still great for your heart

Aug. 19, 2014—Who says heart-healthy exercise has to be an epic event? With just a few minutes and a good pair of running shoes, you could be on your way to reaping some potentially huge fitness benefits.

In fact, running for as little as five minutes a day might even help you avoid dying early from heart disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

About the study

More than 55,000 people were included in this study, and researchers examined data that was gathered between 1974 and 2002.

A physical exam was part of the initial screening for the study, and people were asked to fill out questionnaires during this visit. The answers to those questions helped the researchers identify more than 13,000 runners.

Both runners and nonrunners were tracked, and during the course of the study, there were 3,413 deaths from all causes and 1,217 from cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

After adjusting for various factors, including the participants’ other exercise activities, the researchers noticed that nonrunners died about three years earlier than runners.

When compared to nonrunners, runners were 45 percent less likely to die of CVD disease. Had every participant been a runner, 1 out of every 4 CVD deaths could have been prevented, the researchers estimated.

In terms of predicting decreased life expectancy, not running was right up there with notorious risk factors like high blood pressure and smoking, the researchers reported.

What’s more, runners didn’t have to hit the fast lane to boost their health. Running at even slow speeds (less than 6 miles per hour) and running just one to two times a week was associated with a reduced risk of dying prematurely, when compared with not running. And those who kept up their healthy habit saw the greatest benefits.

Read the study abstract here.

The take-home message
Running is a form of aerobic exercise that offers many health benefits. If you’re not exercising and want to make running part of your routine, government guidelines suggest a weekly goal of at least 75 minutes that can be done in 10-minute chunks. While that’s doable for some, the research implies that runners might sidestep some serious health risks even at levels lower than this. And that’s great news for would-be runners whose busy schedules have kept them from starting to work out.

If you want to try running, you may want to check with your doctor first, especially if you haven’t exercised in quite some time.

When you’re ready to get started, taking a few precautions from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine could help you prevent injuries that are associated with running:

  • Don’t push yourself. Up your running distance gradually, and give yourself days to rest between workouts.
  • If possible, run on a smooth surface, such as a designated jogging trail. Avoid rough roads and, at first, hills.
  • Replace your shoes about every 500 miles.

For more tips on running safely, click here.

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