A new study of more than 55,000 runners is huge good news for most people with diabetes who are too busy to dedicate a lot of time to physical activity. The experts have been telling us for years that working out is good for our health and happiness, but until now nobody knew how little physical activity we really need.
Intensity is the key that researchers from Iowa State University, the University of South Carolina, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and other institutions discovered. They published their new study last week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The abstract of the study, "Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk," is online. D.C. Lee, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, is the study’s lead author, and his university gave me a copy of the full text at my request.
Dr. Lee and his associates used the huge database of the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, focusing on 55,137 runners. This is probably the largest study of runners ever, and what they found was remarkable:
1. The first of their three major findings was that the runners had a 30 percent lower risk of all-cause and a 45 percent lower risk of heart disease mortality compared with non-runners, no matter how they sliced and diced the numbers. "These associations were consistent regardless of sex, age, BMI, health conditions, smoking status, and alcohol consumption," the study reported. These lower risks added up to a three-year greater life expectancy benefit for runners.
2. The second big finding was that even slow running and just running a little was associated with significant benefits in terms of life expectancy.
3. Thirdly, when people ran stayed with a running program, they also lived longer.
The study almost always refers to "running" or "runners." But it’s really about jogging.
What’s the difference? It’s a fine line, sort of like the difference between walking and hiking. The emphasis of most definitions of jogging is on a slower speed or a less focused purpose. One definition of jogging is "running slower than 6 miles per hour." That’s especially interesting because the study found that people who typically ran six-minute miles or faster didn’t live significantly longer that those who were slower.
Likewise, people who ran for 150 minutes or more each week lived longer than those who didn’t run at all, but the difference here too wasn’t significant.
"Most people say they don’t have time to exercise or to increase their physical activity, but I think most everyone can find five to 10 minutes per day to run for the health benefits," Dr. Lee said. "Running is good for your health but more may not be better. I hope more people will be motivated by this study and hope that they can start running and continue to run."
It almost inspired me to resume jogging after a gap of three decades. I intended to celebrate my 79th birthday yesterday with a five-minute jog.
But my hiking buddy reminded me that I sometimes have pain in one of my knees and suggested that this might not be a good idea for me. So I asked Dr. Lee what he thought I should do.
"In my opinion, we all need to listen to our body before, during, and after exercise including running," he told me. "For people with knee issue, walking or swimming rather than running is safe and recommended."
Instead, I went for a brisk walk. A longer one can make up for the reduced intensity.
However you do it, here’s wishing you an active and long life. It’s your time.
David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 keep his diabetes in remission without any drugs. He can be found on Twitter @davidmendosa and on Facebook at David Mendosa.