Jogging for as little as an hour a week can put years on your life, new research has shown.
Regular running increases the average life expectancy of men and women by around six years, a study found.
The greatest benefit came from jogging at a "slow or average" pace - enough to cause slight breathlessness - rather than pushing to physical limits.
Danish heart expert Dr Peter Schnohr, who led the study of almost 2,000 male and female joggers, said: "The results of our research allow us to definitively answer the question of whether jogging is good for your health.
"We can say with certainty that regular jogging increases longevity. The good news is that you don't actually need to do that much to reap the benefits."
The jogging research is part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study which has been monitoring the health of 20,000 Danish men and women aged 20 to 93 since 1976.
A team led by Dr Schnohr looked at death rates among a sub-group of 1,116 male and 762 female joggers over a period of up to 35 years.
Participants were asked how much time they spent jogging each week, and whether they ran at a slow, average or fast pace.
Compared with non-joggers in the main heart study population, the risk of death for both male and female runners was reduced by 44%.
The data showed that, after taking account of age, jogging increased the lifespan of men by 6.2 years and of women by 5.6 years.
Further analysis of the association between jogging and death rate revealed a "U-shaped curve".
This meant improvements were seen with increasing levels of exercise until an optimum point was reached, after which they reduced.
Between one hour and two-and-a-half hours of moderately paced jogging a week, undertaken over two to three sessions, was ideal, said the scientists.
"The relationship appears much like alcohol intakes," said Dr Schnohr, who presented the findings today at a meeting of heart experts in Dublin. "Mortality is lower in people reporting moderate jogging than in non-joggers or those undertaking extreme levels of exercise.
"You should aim to feel a little breathless, but not very breathless."
He said jogging delivered multiple health benefits, including raised oxygen uptake, increased insulin sensitivity, higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, lowered blood pressure, and reduced blood clotting.
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Regular running also improved heart and immune function, bone density while reducing inflammation, and protection against obesity. Jogging first became popular in the 1970s when middle-aged men started running to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Since then there has been an ongoing debate about whether, on balance, jogging is beneficial or harmful.
"After a few men died while out on a run, various newspapers suggested that jogging might be too strenuous for ordinary middle-aged people," said Dr Schnohr.
Dr Schnohr, from Bispebjerg University Hospital, led another study reported last year which showed that cycling can increase lifespan by five years.
But in this case it was "fast pedallers" who did the most intense exercise who benefited most.
The EuroPRevent2012 meeting, taking place in Dublin over the next two days, is organised by the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation.
Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Physical activity has long been associated with improved health and so it's no surprise to see just how beneficial jogging could be.
"Staying active can help prevent and manage a wide variety of health conditions and keep your heart in great shape. It can help the way you look and feel today but could also help to protect your heart health in the future too.
"Jogging might not be for everybody but there are plenty of other ways to keep active. Swimming, walking or even a spot of gardening can be beneficial, too. If you have concerns about the impact of exercise on your health, visit your GP first."
10 Inspiring Ways To Think Yourself Fit
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If there is no passion in what you do, even the greatest motivation power wont get you over the first hurdle. Loving what you do makes the whole 'fitness experience' a lot of fun. Think of it like your job: hate your job and the week drags by. Love your job and nothing is ever a problem and motivation is constantly high.
Give Yourself Plenty Of Options
Due to your natural peaks and troughs of ones mood (especially for women due to menstrual cycle), you need to have 4 or 5 different activities to choose from depending on your mood. If you really can't be bothered, having an easy option like a walk will mean you don't need superhero powers to motivate yourself to get off the sofa. Try as many different activities as you can until you find a few that 'click'.
Set Yourself A Challenge
However cliché this sounds, it works. This doesn't necessarily mean signing up to the London marathon or climbing Everest. It might be trying to complete a lap of the park jogging without walking.
Invest In A Decent Trainer
Anyone can write a programme. The real talented trainers out there have something very special about them. Look at Jose Mourhino. Love him or hate him. He has an amazing ability to motivate people and unlock peoples potential to allow them to reach new heights. Having that 'motivator' at your side should be able to unlock that 'belief' within you that everyone has. Look for someone who is interested in your long term development. They can actually help you put all of these 10 items in this list into place. Not just getting ready for the beach in 4 weeks time.
Build A Fortress Around You
'Stuff' happens in life that you have to deal with as you go along (good or bad). Build a support network of good people around you for when bad times arrive. It therefore means you don't always have to rely on will power. Having good people around you can actually kick start your motivation for you without you even realising.
Share Your Achievements
If you get feedback from another person, their enthusiasm can help you feel valued. If you feel good about yourself, you naturally enter a self generating positive motivation cycle.
Have An Incentive
This may sound ridiculous but it can work. Put a chart on your fridge for 10 sessions. When you have completed all 10, treat yourself. Buy an item like a handbag, a pair of shoes or a book. The physical item is a nice reminder to yourself of how amazing you are and what you have achieved.
Have A Fitness Buddy
Sometimes having a friend giving you a kick up the bum is really helpful. You can actually motivate each other. Especially useful if one can't be bothered.
Don't Go Over The Top
If you go over the top and set yourself totally unrealistic goals (eg I am going to exercise everyday) the low you feel is VERY low. You then need superhuman motivational powers to get back on track. Don't put yourself in the position in the first place.
Take Time Off
If you exercise regularly, at some point you will hit a motivational lull. Therefore, when you go on holiday, enjoy yourself. Forget exercise. It will recharge your brain so you get back that hunger.
If you claim that you never have enough time to exercise, take a look at these workout tips for workaholics and busy bees...
Workout Tips For Workaholics
Write A Time Diary
Are you really as busy as you think? It may feel like every second is used but when you sit down and plan your day it's rare to find that it's actually the case. Even the smallest time-slot can be turned into an opportunity.
Use Interval Training When Doing Cardio
If you're tight for time and can't fit in a long run, do bursts of sprints followed by short recovery periods. This gives you real bang for your buck in a relatively short period of time
Use Supersets When Resistance Training
An agonist-antagonist superset is where we use one muscle group followed directly by using the opposite muscle group. For example, a bench press followed by a wide grip row. This means that as we train one muscle group the opposite is resting and vice versa thus trimming back on rest periods.
Invest In Home Equipment
Having exercise equipment at home, such as Swiss balls and hand-held weights, will enable you to workout whenever you have a spare moment. If you're serious about getting fit, invest in a '<a href="http://www.trxtraining.com/" target="_hplink">suspension training system</a>'. These allow you to perform a full-body workout in a short period of time with minimal space.
Plan Your Meals
Trying to squeeze in a lunchtime gym session? Maximise your time by preparing your lunch the night before. This will save time queueing up in the sandwich shop - and prevent you giving in to calorie-laden takeaway temptations.
Take Advantage Of Free Moments
All activity is useful so use the stairs instead of the lift at work, get off the bus a stop earlier, use the TV ad breaks to do a little exercise (see how many press ups you can do before your programme comes back on). Every moment counts when it comes to burning calories.