This week, the NY Times cited a Cooper Institute study that found running is correlated with a higher increase in life span than any other exercise. (“An Hour of Running May Add 7 Hours to Your Life” – see link below).
The study’s authors acknowledge this is a “correlation” and not “causation” finding. Quick illustration of causation vs. correlation. A guy keeps finding when he sleeps with his clothes and shoes on, he wakes up with a headache. Did sleeping that way cause the headache? No, it was correlated with it (they frequently happen together), with the common root cause being tequila the night before.
My hunch is this finding is an important correlation between running and positive lifespan impact. It’s not the running itself causing incremental benefit vs. other exercise types. Other exercises or mixes thereof can provide the same physical and mind-body benefits. It’s that, critically, runners are likely to have an “Architect” view of their own fitness, and associated sustainable behavior patterns. These are the causative factors behind maximum exercise impact.
I’m not a doctor or PhD, man, but I hope you’ll hang in and follow my logic for a couple of minutes.
BENEFITS OF RUNNING (THE RIGHT AMOUNT)
I’m a runner and think most OlderBeasts should at-least-occasionally be. Let’s give running credit as a great part of the fitness mix. It combines several benefits you might have to work harder to achieve via other means.
- Gets you outdoors and into nature. Getting all your exercise inside a gym/studio can starve you of some important wellness-enhancing things.
- Is weight-bearing, and that’s particularly important as we age for bone health as well as muscle mass and strength preservation. As great as things like cycling and swimming are, they don’t provide this weight-bearing benefit.
- Is the original endurance sport and a great part of a cardio routine (though recent research is finding that interval training has similar impact in less time).
- Helps you manage your weight, by burning calories (and motivates you to eat well, to avoid hauling around extra weight that you really feel when running!).
- Provides great challenge-yourself opportunities. It’s easy to measure miles and time, and there are so many races to do.
- Brings reflective solitude time we all need, to clear the mind and allow creativity and problem-solving.
But for many guys (I’m one), running too much can lead to chronic injuries. And it can crowd out other exercise that rounds out your fitness with strength, flexibility and balance. These are things running’s not so good for. With all the benefits, but also potential drawbacks, most guys either run too little or too much (you should seek a sweet spot in-between).
RUNNING = INDICATOR OF “ARCHITECT” BEHAVIOR + OTHER GOOD THINGS
While running is great, and I urge you to do it sometimes, here’s the heart of how I interpret this study.
Running is a by-yourself, no-class-schedule, no-scripted-program fitness activity. By mixing it into your fitness routine, your acting like an Architect who’s taken charge of his own long-term game plan. You’re not depending on other people or other things to stay fit.
An Architect is much more likely to maintain a baseline level of fitness activity throughout the year (despite travel, work- and family-driven crunch periods, etc.). AND more likely to maintain fitness over the years and decades.
Runners aren’t the only Architects, of course. Other endurance-sports guys are often this way, as are guys who work out on their own at gyms or with home equipment. So are guys who throw some fitness classes into an overall mix they design and manage. That’s what I do, with yoga and high-intensity interval training (HiiT).
But if someone’s a runner, we can conclude this:
- Highly likely to have an Architect mindset and associated long-term fitness behavior
- Gets outdoors for fitness routinely, with all the associated wellness benefits
- Has an easy, sustainable fitness habit in repertoire: doesn’t need to belong to anything, can do it when traveling, doesn’t need a lot of special gear
- Likely to have weight under control (which itself is associated with major improvement to life expectancy – a whole other topic that gets us into nutrition, too)
These four characteristics combined are a GREAT formula, brothers. Whether or not you buy into my take on this study, with your thriving in mind I urge you to seek these four things!
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and they’ll eventually find some actual, physical way that running is better-for-you than a package of other exercises. If so, that benefit would be on top of all these other things that, even today, we can see is correlated with being a runner.
So: get out there and hit the road, Jack. Even if it’s super-slow, for short distances, or even with an alternating walk/jog mix. We’ve all been there at some point. If you need a “get started running” plan, check out this OlderBeast post.
Here’s the link to the NYT article.
“Long may you run, long may you run. Although these changes have come.” (Neil Young, Long May You Run—click to listen)
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