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Short runs still have major health benefits, research says

You may not need to run for very long to reap rewards

Silhouette of young woman jogging on shore at sunrise

There’s a consensus that running has positive effects on our physical and mental health, but how many miles do runners need to log before they reap rewards? Most people know those who exercise have less risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes and tend to live longer, and it’s a commonly held belief that the more time spent pounding the pavement, the greater the benefits. Recent research suggests we don’t actually need to run very much to reap the rewards, The New York Times recently reported.

Two men exercising outdoors

Longer doesn’t mean better

There’s a growing body of evidence that correlates even much shorter running sessions to significant health benefits, especially those regarding longevity and mental health. Dr. James H. O’Keefe, director of preventive cardiology at St. Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo., says that going for a two-mile (3.2 km) run several times a week seems to give people the full benefit of running, in terms of longevity, specifically.

O’Keefe and his colleagues have published multiple studies on running for health and longevity. In one study, he analyzed long-term health and exercise data gathered from 5,000 adults ranging in age from 20 to 92. People who ran between one and two and a half hours per week at a slow or moderate pace seem to have the biggest boost in longevity–even greater than in runners who run more, faster.

woman running in fog

Less time training still boosts mental health

Exercise makes us feel better, but more exercise doesn’t necessarily mean more mental health benefits. A recent research review on exercise and depression reported that adults who managed to exercise for the two-and-a-half hours of physical activity per week recommended by most guidelines gained a 25 per cent lower risk of depression when compared to non-exercisers.

Can’t manage to meet the recommended guidelines? Those who completed only half of the recommended two-and-a-half weekly hours still benefited from an 18 per cent lower risk of depression compared to non-exercisers.

Trail and ultrarunners run mostly for mental benefits, study finds

“The growing consensus in the field is that the benefits of running start to accrue within minutes,” said Dr. Rajesh Vedanthan, an associate professor of population health at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

If you’re a newer runner easing into regular exercise, or simply can’t fit in longer running sessions, don’t stress: you’re still adding years to your life, reducing your risk of many diseases and bolstering your mental health.

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