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BLOG: August 2008
Run for life
We all have heard that regular running is good for health. If done properly, without overexertion, backed by good nutrition and healthy lifestyle, it should strengthen your body, your spirit and your overall wellbeing. But how much? Is there a measure against which one can say is it - or is not - worth its weight in sweat?
Recently completed long-term study offers some specific answers (JAMA, Archives of Internal Medicine, 08/11/2008). Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, California (Chakravarty et al.), followed nearly 1,000 people for over two decades, beginning in 1985. All were 50 or older at the beginning, healthy, and of similar general lifestyle, except for the regular vigorous exercise.
The study was based on annual Health Assessment Questionnaire, initially sent out to 538 members of nationwide running club and 423 control group participants. The runners started out with better score, and after two decades it was still slightly better than for the inactive group at the beginning of the study.
The death rate was more than doubled in the physically inactive group: after 19 years, 15% of the runners, and 34% of the inactives have died. Those exercising regularly were not only doing significantly better physically - as reflected in their better fitness level, cardiovascular health, increased bone mass and fewer disabilities - but were also having better cognitive function (thinking, learning, memory).
And these benefits did extend for those who, due to advanced age, had to discontinue their regular running routine.
One can argue that those running regularly are more likely to have generally healthier lifestyle in other respects, and that it is in part to credit for their health-preserving advantage in the study. Just staying fit is a big plus in that respect. But that is the point: preserving health requires an overall healthy lifestyle, that includes quality nutrition, minimized toxic exposure (which includes avoiding smoking, alcohol overuse or other form of substance abuse), positive outlook and sense of purpose.
The effect of running - or other forms of regular vigorous aerobic exercise - pretty much depend on the rest of what you do - or don't do. It won't work if you try to use it to "compensate" for unhealthy habits; instead, it could hurt, rather than help.