Running for longer life

Run NOW! Your brain will thank you later

Running for Longer Life

Run NOW! Your brain will thank you in later life

And not only your brain, even if you are overweight and run, you have a longer life expectancy.

Not to sound smug, but runners are just about the best people in the world. Well, maybe that’s a bit smug. Some of us run for pleasure or from our demons; some of us run because we’re deeply competitive. Some run because it’s the quickest way to clear out the cobwebs. But no matter what your rationale, you might be doing even more good for yourself than you realize: running can reduce your risk of premature death by 25 to 40 percent. Running just 6 miles a week has been proven to have protective effects against all-cause mortality. No matter how fast or how far you’re running, you’re lapping everyone on the couch; the reduction in cardiovascular disease and mortality risk is similar across distances and speeds. As long as you hit or surpass that magic 6 miles per week, you’ll be enjoying life-lengthening benefits, and everything beyond those 6 miles is gravy.

While we know persistence and consistency are keys to success (especially in endurance sports), now the science backs up consistent, persistent effort as longevity strategy as well. Persistent runners had even better outcomes than casual runners, with even greater reductions in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality compared to people who have never been runners.

While it’s never too late to start, now is definitely better than later. This is another situation where a time machine would come in handy; just as activity in early childhood predicts bone density in adolescence, the athletic work we put in early in life pays dividends later on. The earlier we start getting fit, the longer, and better, we’ll live: our fitness at age 25 predicts mental acuity in middle age. Run now, your brain will thank you later.

The Power of Your Brain

The link between physical activity and brain function has been studied thoroughly, but is it a two-way street? Can brain activity have an effect on your physical wellbeing? It looks like maybe the answer is yes: just thinking you’re fit could have a protective effect. In this study, those who perceived themselves to be less fit than their peers had worse survival rates over a 21-year follow-up period even after scientists adjusted for their actual levels of fitness.This would appear to be a case of “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”. This dovetails nicely with recent studies examining how our social interactions affect our overall health and wellbeing. It would seem that peer pressure and self-evaluation, along with local environmental factors, carry more sway than we may have realized.  

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While seasoned athletes tend to have a better quality of life than sedentary folks, running can extend your life expectancy even if you are not in optimal shape. A regular running routine reduces chances of premature death even in overweight folks. All shapes and sizes can gain years of independent life by increasing their activity levels. The upsides to running don’t stop at increasing longevity; they also include improved mental outlook, optimism and self-confidence. As a preventative measure, regular aerobic exercise appears to be protective against depression and has been studied as an alternative treatment to pharmaceutical medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Anyone taking any medications for any reason should always consult their doctor before changing a treatment protocol, of course. Running is an excellent complementary strategy for mood and stress management but should not replace the advice of a medical professional.

Surround Yourself With Active People

And stack the odds in your favor

One of the best strategies for maintaining fitness and healthy lifestyle factors is surrounding yourself with factors that facilitate that choice. It would follow that living in an environment or social group where everyone is pursuing a healthy lifestyle would promote those actions. If your close friends are on the road to obesity, your chance of following in their footsteps rises. Social cues in our friend groups are powerful, indeed. In fact, our behaviour can even be influenced by subtle environmental cues that don’t even need to involve our peer group. In studies on environmental prompts, the prompts had to be kept secret from the study subjects for them to work since we tend to compensate for obvious influences. You can set up your life to deliver unconscious cues, however, by choosing to put yourself in environments that are conducive to your goals.


Unfortunately, in spite of all the promising research, we cannot run our way to immortality; while running can add years to your life, the benefit tops out at about 3 years of increased lifespan. While the benefits are not infinite, they are consistent across activity levels; competitive endurance athletes enjoy longer lifespans just as casual joggers do. Nice to know that our (slight) obsession with distance running isn’t cheating us out of those extra years. Keep in mind, however, that the benefits of living an active life are most attainable if you continue to pursue your activity/activities of choice. A high-level athletic career followed by retirement to a desk job results in a return to baseline levels of longevity.




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The Takeaway

Keep going! Endurance athletes enjoy the longest lifespans of all competitive athletes. If possible, train with a friend for maximum results. And for goodness sake, if you are an elite athlete, don’t give up your active life if you stop competing. The continued pursuit of physical fitness will keep you younger, longer, and your brain will thank you by staying sharp well into old age.