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Jog Your Way to a Longer Life

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Longer, healthier, happier lives; that's what drives me. It's Bupa's purpose and therefore as Chief Medical Officer, it's also my purpose. I consider myself to be a healthy individual, but I have some pretty poor genes, with both my father and brother dying from heart attacks at an early age. Unfortunately, I can't change my genes, but I can change my habits.

I eat well, keep the unhealthy stuff to a minimum and exercise regularly. In fact, I'll say with confidence that I run at least three or four times a week, covering a couple of 5km runs during the week and longer ones at the weekends, when time permits. Therefore, as a dedicated runner, a recent study caught my attention, claiming that joggers live on average six years longer than non-joggers.

This long-term study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed that jogging is associated with significantly lower mortality and increases survival for both men and women.

To come to such conclusions, the jogging habits of just over 17,500 healthy white women and men were recorded. All had been invited to participate in the Copenhagen City Heart Study between 1976 and 2003, and were followed from their first examination until June 2011 or death. As well as recording whether someone jogged or not, data were also collected on how often each person jogged and their pace.

The researchers found that 1,878 people in the study (762 women and 1,116 men) were joggers. During the 35-year follow-up period, there were 122 deaths among the joggers, compared to over 10,000 deaths among the non-joggers. Female joggers lived 5.6 years longer and men lived 6.2 years longer than their non-jogging peers.

The researchers also found that up to 2.5 hours of jogging a week at a slow or average pace, three times a week, was associated with the lowest mortality. Although there was no evidence to support faster or more frequent jogging, there was also nothing to suggest that people shouldn't partake in this type of exercise.

Although these findings look impressive on the surface, and further research into this area could indeed shape how, when and why we exercise, we must not overlook the potential limitations of this research. For example, perhaps only healthy people took up jogging, therefore, are more likely to eat well, maintain a healthy weight and live longer. Was it something else that caused them to live longer, not just jogging? Furthermore, a lot of the data were collected using questionnaires, which might have allowed people to record untrue or inaccurate behaviours.

Looking past the details of the study's design, I think the main message we can take from this research is that irrespective of jogging duration, pace or frequency, mortality was lower among those who exercised. We all know we should be exercising regularly and studies such as this one reinforce the importance of aerobic exercise - that is, fitness related to the health of your heart and lungs.

As someone who runs regularly and has done for 25 years, I am always glad to read research like this. But it's not a time to panic if jogging or running isn't your forte. Aerobic exercise can come in many forms - swimming, brisk walking, dancing and even gardening all count.

If you do decide to dust off your trainers and start jogging regularly, I'd advise visiting your doctor before you start a running programme, especially if you're over 40 years, overweight or have a chronic illness. If you're starting from scratch, stick to brisk walking to begin with, then alternating between walking and jogging as you build up your fitness.

And if you really want to set a target and reach a goal, why not sign up to an organised run? I'm booked in to the Bupa London 10,000 and The Bupa Great North Run this year, which are both keeping me well on track. Or look a bit closer to home; there are countless charity events, bike rides and fun runs to keep you clocking up the miles...and you never know, perhaps clocking up your years too.

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