Running a marathon is hard work and strains the body. Lower back and knee pains are commonly experienced, yet many still persevere through the training. New long-term studies will provide some sort of comfort to runners with their findings. The studies followed individuals who frequently run marathons, and followed-up with them after 20 to 30 years.

Apart from keeping the weight at bay, running increases life expectancy, as fewer diseases such as diabetes, osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease afflict runners. Dr Reed Ferber from the Running Injury Clinic in Canada says, “running isn't bad for your joints. It's not bad for your ankle, your knee, or your hip joints.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) even recommends a weekly dose of vigorous-intensity physical activity, such as running for 75 minutes, or moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking for 150 minutes.

Running, an overall good guy – with a caveat

A US study published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases in March also backs the claim that runners live longer. The study analysed data of 55,000 men and women aged 18 to 100 from another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2014.

It was reported that runners are 30% less likely to die prematurely and 45% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) when compared to non-runners. Runners also live up to three years longer than non-runners, making running the top of its class when it comes to benefits of physical activity.

“Running may be the most cost-effective lifestyle medicine from a public health perspective,” the study’s authors said.

In addition, Julien Schipman, a sports health specialist at France's Institute of Sport and Performance also attributes running with other benefits.

“It helps your mental health by producing hormones, endorphins, which give you a feeling of well-being,” says Schipman.

The key to reaping for the best results running can offer, is to not overdo it and to listen to the body’s cues to avoid injuries in the lower back and the knees. As explained by Dr Ferber, a runner with an existing injury will most likely worsen the injury with the continuous training. In the case of arthritis, it is not to say that running is prohibited, but extra care in preventing the shocks that travel up the body will need to be in place to mitigate further injuries.

Running also holds the caveat of risking heart attacks and sudden deaths, so it is advisable for individuals to get checked up before proceeding, to account for factors like weight, age and lifestyle habits.

Sports cardiologist Stephane Cade says that “deaths are often linked to heart disease which went unnoticed until being triggered by running."

Nevertheless, Cade is of the opinion that varying the pace of running can minimise this risk.

Throw in some weights to prevent injuries

Strength training also provides a lower risk of premature death.
Strength training also provides a lower risk of premature death.

Running is not the only physical exercise that can lower the risk of premature death. Strength-building exercises such as squats, weight-lifting and push-ups have also been found to be beneficial in a study by the University of Sydney in Australia. The study showed that exercises promoting muscular strength, can be associated to a reduced risk of all-cause and cancer-related deaths.

Analysing data of 80,306 adults aged 30 years and older from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey, Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis, associate professor in the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Centre, found that individuals who engaged in strength exercises had a 23% lower risk of death by all causes, and a 31% lower risk of cancer-related death.

“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling," explains Dr Stamatakis.

Supplementing running with strength-building exercises should, therefore, be encouraged – just as running should also be augmented with other activities – as cross-training is helpful in preventing injuries, according to Dr Ferber. MIMS

Read more:
5 cool facts you may not know about running
Weight-bearing activities good for long-term bone health
No lactic acid build-up in ultrarunner Dean Karnazes’ muscles