While running is linked to many health benefits better cholesterol and blood pressure, weight control and stress reduction it also may have a point of diminishing returns.
A study conducted by researchers at the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pa. concluded that those who get no exercise and those that were high-mileage runners both had shorter lifespans than moderate runners. While the reasons were unclear, the findings did not rule out cardiac risk or the use of certain medications as factors.
Data was culled from 3,800 men and women runners with an average age of 46 with nearly 70 percent running more than 20 miles a week. The runners supplied information on their use of common painkillers NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen/Aleve linked with heart problems, as well as aspirin, which is known to be heart-protective.
They were also asked to report on known heart risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking history and family history of heart disease. But none of those factors explained the shorter lives of high-mileage runners. Use of NSAIDs was more common in runners who ran less than 20 miles a week.
Our study didnt find any differences that could explain these longevity differences, says Dr. Martin Matsumura, co-director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute. The study negates the theory that excessive use of NSAIDs may be causing the loss of longevity among high-mileage runners.
While Matsumura doesnt tell patients to not run, he says he does tell high-mileage runners to stay informed about new research into the mileage-lifespan link as more becomes known. What we still dont understand is defining the optimal dose of running for health and longevity, he added.
Dr. James OKeefe, director of preventive cardiology at the Mid-American Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo., states that there does seem to be some potentially life-shortening ill effects from the amount of running, even though the heart disease risk factors couldnt explain the shorter longevity of high-mileage runners. His belief is that there simply may be too much wear and tear on the bodies of high-mileage runners.
OKeefe reviewed the findings of this study as well as researching this issue as an advocate of moderate running for the best health benefits. His belief is that slow to moderate pace running two to three times a week for one to two-and-a-half hours will provide the best health benefits and advises runners to avoid strenuous exercise for more than an hour at a time.