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Running from Death: It Doesn’t Take Much

How much exercise does it really take? Everyone tells us to stay active, but do some recommendations ask too much and end up discouraging some people

How? Fortunately, Duck-chul Lee, PhD, and other researchers from the University of Iowa (U.S.A.), spent 15 years finding out how much it takes.

If You Can Run 5 Minutes Per Day, You Can Run from Death

They surveyed more than 55,000 people about their exercise habits, or lack thereof, and followed those people for 15 years. Study participants ranged in age from 18 to 100. Among people under age 50, runners enjoyed a mortality risk 29% lower than non-runners. Persistent runners had lower mortality risk than inconsistent runners, but time and intensity of running did not make a large difference. Lee et al. observed that running as little as 30 minutes per week (even an average of 5 minutes per day) reduced all-cause mortality risk by 28% and reduced cardiovascular mortality risk by 58%! You don’t have to be fast either. Paces under 9.7 kmh (6 miles per hour) corresponded with lower mortality risk. Unfortunately, the study put every speed under 6 mph in one category, so the report could not suggest a minimum speed. Other studies have also found that increased running time and intensity has not greatly increased the mortality benefit.2,3,4  

Does More Running Equal Longer Life?

However, some studies have found a dose-response relationship wherein more running corresponded with greater reductions in cardiovascular mortality risk.5,6 Also, more time and intensity in exercise results in greater measures of fitness. But, after a certain point, that greater fitness may not translate directly into greater longevity.

It’s About Whatever Keeps You Active

The takeaway from the University of Iowa study appears to be that the best exercise practice is the one each individual will do consistently over years. Doing whatever keeps you active may be more important than forcing yourself into patterns that you will start and stop. If you are running from death, take your time. Take a day off, even. It’s all good.

Official Recommendations Versus Running from Death

The Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC) recommends activity on most if not all days, adding up to 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. Moderate-intensity activity includes a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn, or swimming. Alternatively, you could turn it up a notch and do vigorous activities such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer, or netball. In that case, the DHAC recommends a weekly total of 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week. The DHAC notes that doing any physical activity is better than doing none. They also state, “If you do no physical activity right now, start by doing some, then slowly build up to the recommended amount.” On the other hand, if your primary objective is longer life, the researchers at the University of Iowa might say, “Start by doing some and do whatever activities will keep you consistently active.”   



  1. Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Aug 5;64(5):472-81.
  2. Schnohr P, Marott JL, Lange P, Jensen GB. Longevity in male and female joggers: the Copenhagen City Heart Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2013 Apr 1;177(7):683-9.
  3. Paffenbarger Jr RS, Hyde R, Wing AL, Hsieh CC. Physical activity, all-cause mortality, and longevity of college alumni. New England Journal of Medicine. 1986 Mar 6;314(10):605-13.
  4. Wen CP, Wai JP, Tsai MK, Yang YC, Cheng TY, Lee MC, Chan HT, Tsao CK, Tsai SP, Wu X. Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet. 2011 Oct 1;378(9798):1244-53.
  5. Williams PT. Reductions in incident coronary heart disease risk above guideline physical activity levels in men. Atherosclerosis. 2010 Apr 1;209(2):524-7.
  6. Chomistek AK, Cook NR, Flint AJ, Rimm EB. Vigorous-intensity leisure-time physical activity and risk of major chronic disease in men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012 Oct;44(10):1898.


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