Running and health: Another study takes a swipe at long-distance training

Training for events like this marathon would seem to be a path to excellent health. But a recent study suggests people who undergo moderate endurance training live longer than those who push themselves harder.

It seems like new studies about running are being churned out with greater frequency these days. And there seems to be a theme to many of them: Watch out how many miles you’re putting in.

A couple of weeks ago, the American College of Sports Medicine produced the results of a lengthy study that studied the health of runners compared to non-runners. You can see a link to a story about it from Runner’s World at this link.

The study examined tens of thousands of people from 1971-2002, determining a “hazard ratio” for the subjects studied.

How it worked: The study found that runners (depending on how many miles they ran, how fast, or how often) had a lower percent chance of dying during the study period than non-runners. For example, a runner who ran 9 miles a week would have a 15 percent less chance of dying during the study period than a non-runner. That runner would then be given a hazard ratio number of.85.

What was interesting is that there seems to be a “sweet spot” in terms of distance, speed and frequency. The findings are surprising.

The lowest (best) ratio favored those who ran 10-20 miles a week; 2-5 days a week (2 days actually had a very low .65 hazard ratio, lowest of all the categories identified); and an 8:35 to 10-minute pace per mile.

Now for the biggest surprise of the study: The worst ratios for runners in the study tended to be those who ran the farthest, fastest and most often.

You heard me right. Runners who ran 25 or more miles a week had a hazard ratio of .95. Those who ran 20-25 miles a week came in at .90. Both represent the worst hazard ratios among runners studied in terms of weekly distance.

Similarly, the hazard ratios were also worst for those who ran the most often and for those who ran the fastest.

Totally counterintuitive, but it also strengthens many people’s call for moderation in all things.

But I like this quote from the Runner’s World writer Amby Burfoot best:

“This is why many people believe the moderate approach is the smartest path to follow. Of course, you’ll never qualify for the Boston Marathon that way. We all have to make our choices.”

Choices indeed.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


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