If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that running was bad for me, I'd buy a closet full of new running gear and move to a tropical location where I could run on sandy beaches every day. Running has a bad rap as being bad for the knees and joints and even damaging to your heart and immune system. But new research has found what most runners already know — running is actually beneficial to your overall health. Now we have the numbers to prove it.

The recent study, published last month in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, took a close look at running and its effect on human health, for better or for worse. The research team, which included sports researchers and cardiologists from Iowa State University, South Carolina State University, and Harvard Medical School, looked at running as a lifestyle factor and attempted to crunch the numbers on whether or not it could be beneficial and if so, by how much.

By reviewing large-scale epidemiological studies, the team concluded that running consistently adds about three years to your life. And we're not talking huge amounts of running, either. They noted that running just 2.5 hours per week for 50 years would be all you need to boost your lifespan. That works out to an additional seven hours of living for every hour spent running. Not a bad investment, right?

It's worth noting that the authors of the study have also recently published reviews cautioning runners about the dangers of too much running. So it's safe to assume that they weren't trying to skew the data in any particular direction. (It's also worth noting that these numbers are based upon self-reported data from respondents regarding their levels of exercise. So take it all with a grain of salt.)

Still, when the researchers compared the health of runners, non-runners, and those who are active but do not run, running came out on top as an indicator of longevity. In the study, researchers broke the participants into four groups:

  1. Active runners (who got at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week through running and other activities.)
  2. Active non-runners (who exercised for at least 75 minutes each week but did not run.)
  3. Inactive non-runners (who did not get the minimum of 75 minutes of exercise each week)
  4. Inactive runners (who ran, but not enough to get 75 minutes of exercise each week.)

Using the inactive non-runners as a baseline, the team found that active runners were 43 percent less likely to die during the study, even when all other factors (such as age, education, location, etc.) were accounted for, whereas active non-runners were only 12 percent less likely to die than their couch potato peers. Even the inactive runners — those who ran but did not get as much exercise each week as those who were active in ways other than running — fared better in the long run; they were 30 percent less likely to die during the study than those who did not exercise at all.

According to this data, running is good for your health and a great way to add some extra years to your life. Now if only I had those nickels...

If you want to live longer, go for another run
Researchers crunch the data and figure out exactly how much extra time running can add to your life.