Running more may not help you live longer
April 3rd, 2014
12:58 PM ET

Running more may not help you live longer

No, this isn't an excuse to put down your running shoes. Unless, of course, you're already running more than 20 miles a week.

Research presented this week at the annual American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in Washington shows runners who average more than 20 miles a week don't live as long as those who run less than 20 miles a week. In fact, they live, on average, about as long as people who don't run much at all.

In other words, like most things in life, moderation may be key.

The study authors analyzed data from more than 3,800 men and women older than 35 who are participating in the Masters Running Study. Participants reported their weekly running averages as well as information about their cardiovascular health and use of common painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Nearly 70% of the study participants reported running more than 20 miles a week.

Researchers saw a U-shaped data set when they looked at longevity compared with the runners' mileage. Those who ran a moderate amount each week tended to live the longest.

The study authors could not find a strong association between cardiovascular health or painkiller use and the long-distance runners' shorter life spans, so the reason behind this link remains unclear.

Previous research supports the idea that endurance exercise carries a risk. A 2012 study from the Mayo Clinic found that excessive training can cause cardiovascular damage such as scarring and enlargement of the heart and blood vessels.

“You can do light to moderate exercise as long as you want. We’re genetically designed for that kind of activity," Dr. James O'Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute, told CNN at the time. "We’re just not designed to run 26 miles at a time, or 100, or go on a full-distance triathlon for 12 hours as hard as you can go.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week (i.e., running). You should also strength train two or more days a week.

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soundoff (794 Responses)
  1. ArmChairHero

    My heart is as supple as a babies behind. I have fat reserves to fight off any sudden illness. While you have been running miles everyday hardening your heart and reducing your fat to dangerous levels, I have been preparing by watching TV while eating doritos on a daily basis. Lets see who lives the longest.

    April 5, 2014 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alan S

      Hero: I am 63 years old and preparing to run my umpteenth marathon in June. I can't predict whether you or I will live longer, but I can guarantee that I have had more pleasure than I can describe training for and running marathons and ultramarathons these last 30-odd years. Running long distances has enriched my life in a way that an arm chair can't.

      April 7, 2014 at 11:45 | Report abuse |
    • jack

      you sir, are my hero

      April 8, 2014 at 02:20 | Report abuse |
    • wakeupman

      Ya, but when the time comes to run for your life, who'se gonna carry your dorritos? ha hahhhhhaaaa???

      April 16, 2014 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
  2. Dejesus Jackson

    Except in a zombie apocalypse.. remember the first rule is cardio. Zombies always get the fatties first.

    April 5, 2014 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr Tod P

    Exercise is important, I cannot run since I always get shin splints. Exercise can be many things and I think many times the promotion and pushing of exercise is simply a way for people in the exercise business to make money, it is all about money.

    April 5, 2014 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alan S

      No, Doctor, it's not all about money. Some people are motivated, at least occasionally, by other things.

      April 7, 2014 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
    • Percysmama

      I think people exercise for health, mood and weight maintenance. I run and bike it is great. Shin splints go away after a period of adjustment.

      April 7, 2014 at 18:12 | Report abuse |
    • ThatDudeThat'sCrazy


      NO DOC! NO! NOT ALL ABOUT THE MONEY DOC! I've been running since primary school and am in great condition physically and mentally. Oh yeah. I don't care if I die earlier from all this running. I love it and it has helped develop me develop into the iron-willed individual I am today. Plus I got rocking abdominal muscles. I do around 80+ miles a week running in college. That's right. I do it cause I love it, not for money at all. I'll run ultra-marathons till I die on the spot. People that aren't serious endurance runners never understand. I don't know why. Probably to much weight between their brains and their feet to get them running. Get over your little shin splints and run like the real men. #TURNUP

      April 7, 2014 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
  4. dan

    Brisk walking is good for you too. as long as you're moving, it's a good thing.

    April 6, 2014 at 07:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jhoneycombs

    Why is everyone is impassioned about this article. If you love to run 26 miles at a time, it would be foolish to stop running because of life expectancy. If you are a person whose life is driven by the mysterious cronut, then eat them. What is the point of a longer life without the things you enjoy. Running three miles a day is going to let you eat a lot more for a lot longer, but if you are healthy and able to manage your health without draining anyone else's resources who care how long you live?

    April 6, 2014 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sybel

      I know a few guys who said that they would rather continue doing some less than healthy stuff and forego a couple years, that is until their time was about up. They didn't have much to say about it then.

      April 6, 2014 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
  6. Timestwo

    I've been an avid (semi-competative) road bike cyclist for the last ten years, but I've dialed it down in the last six months. Now I generally have leisurely walk after dinner with my wife and bike on the weekends. Ironically, I feel healthier and less fatigued. Walking is probably the best thing you can do for your body, but it's neither sexy, nor is there a lot of money to be made in that industry. But a $2,700 carbon road bike (which is common), shoes, helmet, cycling clothes, etc... Now that's what sells.

    April 6, 2014 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mnbska

      LOL exactly. I resisted buying my first "nice" bike because I knew it wasn't going to make me ride any more. I still miss my first road bike: a Scwhinn Tempo I bought when it was 20 years old.

      April 7, 2014 at 11:26 | Report abuse |
  7. neil

    I've been reading health headlines every day for about 30 years every day. I have both good and bad news for all of you, I'll begin with the bad: Everything is bad for you and can kill you early. Now the good news: Everything is ALSO good for you and will help you live longer! I can find at least two-opposing studies on just about every health topic in existence. Meanwhile my brother RIP died at 44 from a heart attack and he was not in poor health nor had very many bad habits nor do we have it in our family, yet some obese chain smoking burger-downing couch potatoes are enjoying themselves at 75 years old right now. I only believe one thing the doctors in my family have told me, because it's the only thing they've said with absolute conviction: Death and disease are a crap-shoot. ou can study casino games all you want, you'll never win every time, and more to the point: there are hands you could lose to a 3-year old who doesn't even know the rules. Pure chance, good luck to us all.

    April 6, 2014 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. khan

    Not very informative study any ways!! But think about professional Basketball players they play 82 games a season plus camps and run day in day out and all former old players are living healthy until now.Average Basketball game make you run more than 5 mile if not less than this and every week they play more than 5 games.Does this adds some clarification?

    April 6, 2014 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff

      Wrong on the five mile stat.


      April 7, 2014 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
  9. Porky Pig Jr

    Run fast die young!

    April 6, 2014 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ThatDudeThat'sCrazy


      April 7, 2014 at 20:13 | Report abuse |
  10. nick

    All Centurions that I have seen interview have one common trait, they all walked everyday.

    April 7, 2014 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jeff

    I think that this article has misinterpreted the research. If you want to know why take a look at this article:


    It was written by a Alex Hutchinson. He is a former physicist and national-class runner, and a National Magazine Award-winning science journalist. His latest book is called Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? Fitness Myths, Training Truths and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.

    Bottom line is that the statement that high mileage runners die earlier than low mileage runners because of their higher mileage is not proven by any study.

    It may be true, but no study has been done that supports that conclusion.

    In fact, the research shows that at worst there is a point of diminishing return on the benefits of running longer on a regular basis. There is no study that supports an argument that running too much is bad for one's health.

    If you really want to know the truth about this read the article by Mr. Hutchison. It clearly explains what the research does and does not say about this.

    It may be possible that too much hard endurance training is harmful. Mr. Hutchison even suggests this may be true. That is, that just as with many things "too much" of something that is good in some amount may be bad for us at a high level, so might endurance training.

    However, for levels of activity of up to an hour per day, the research does not show any harm. And, no study exists to show at what level of activity any harm to one's health does begin.

    People who say otherwise really have not looked at the data and considered what it really does tell us.

    April 7, 2014 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. matt

    Check out the following in response to Dr. O'Keefe's post...


    April 7, 2014 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Yes It's Not

    Everything in high enough amounts can be bad for you.

    Also, which is better, dying suddenly of a heart attack, or dying over a period of years from kidney, heart, lung, liver, and brain problems? I am hoping for a heart attack. I've seen so many obese people just cling to life every single day until finally they are taken by cancer or prolonged systemic organ failure. They have to drag around their oxygen tank on the way to the dialysis clinic, and then they have to take their cholesterol medication and continue to sit on the couch because even a little exercise could actually kill them because their heart is so weak and clogged with junk. Waiting for death is not the same as living a life. I run less than 20 miles a week, but more than 10. I am very fit and active and it allows me to go hiking and to see things, and to not worry so much about what I eat. I am able to enjoy that roasted ribeye or black and blue filet w/ fried onions once a month because I know where my nutrition is at. When that fat body is at 60 years old and has to watch what they eat or they will fall into a diabetic coma, I'll still be enjoying my whiskey, my steaks, and my exercising.

    April 7, 2014 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mickinmd

      Note that running MORE than 3 miles/day may not help. I know a lot of former long distance runners – including myself – who later had leg problems and grew fat. If I hadn't discovered bicycling I wouldn't have gotten my legs back into shape.

      April 7, 2014 at 13:09 | Report abuse |
  14. Lojack

    Running is o.k. but the hokey pokey is what it's all about!

    April 7, 2014 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kyle McAndrews


      April 28, 2014 at 00:47 | Report abuse |
  15. mickinmd

    Article headline: "Running more may not help you live longer"

    Main Page Link: "Running more won't help.

    The fact is that running an extreme amount MAY not help, but some running does help – running about 3 miles/day or less IS helpful to the avg. person. Running more MAY not help, but the reasons are mostly due to obesity and painkillers.

    April 7, 2014 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jeff

    Actually, there is evidence that running results in continuing additional health benefits for periods of time up to an hour of running per day.

    Sure, the incremental improvements in measurable health benefits declines as one approaches the one hour per day amount, but there is no evidence that the return turns negative.

    Although, it does make sense that at some point the return must be negative.

    The question is why would we turn the evidence upside down to actually say that running more than 20 minutes per day is actually bad for someone?

    April 7, 2014 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Artemis MA

    Agreed - as too much running may facilitate your knees in "giving out". And then you won't be able to move quickly at all. (Having a severely bum knee, I know that running is not a "one-size-fits-all" therapeutic. And I know runners who have destroyed a knee or two.)

    April 7, 2014 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ThatDudeThat'sCrazy

      I think the nut-job that wrote this article is not a serious endurance runner himself. AND I'LL RUN TILL I DIE. Sorry to all the haters. NOT.
      87 miles last week.
      What a coconut.

      April 7, 2014 at 20:19 | Report abuse |
  18. NatureOrNurture

    I have a friend who thinks exercise can comp for a bad lifestyle choices (cheeseburgers and fries) and for bad genes. Neither is obviously true. Moderation is the key and scientists are just starting to realize that keeping your stress levels down is the best goal. Do what makes you happy and as soon as it doesn't anymore you should move on.

    April 7, 2014 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. concernedcitizen

    Well instead of running, which Congress should ban outright Americans can help the economy by slopping down Pepsi and Grubbing at the Chinese buffet instead. Seriously what the hell kind of article writer would have the nerve to say this? The tradition of the long runner is one of glory and tenacity. Its not like we are going to live forever and doing the marathons and ultra marathons are all worth it.Tell that long distance running is bad to a Kenyan

    April 8, 2014 at 02:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Taylor Rees

    wow this is rather dashing and insulting to the rees family name we have always been hunter gatherer types and love sniffing strage objects for hobbys

    April 8, 2014 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Ian Rollison

    Heart only beat so many times in life. Not good to wear it out. Heart need rest too.

    April 12, 2014 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yong Xue

      Do a math. A runner like me has heart beat about 50 per minute. But in more than an hour each day, your heart beats are a lot of more. The Total?

      October 12, 2014 at 21:33 | Report abuse |
  22. Victoria Rose

    Asprin is just a name brand of Ibuprofen. Noticed that mistake in the beginning of the article.

    May 9, 2014 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Yong Xue

    I am 53 running about 60 miles a week (about 7:10 per mile). I run a half Marathon within 1:30. I am planning training for a Marathon. The study deserves my attention. But everyone is different. If I don't feel any stress, if I feel so optimistic about life, if I stay healthy, why give up this life style? Who knows? Maybe a few years later new researches will reach different conclusions. The only advice I would provide is this: don't push yourself too hard after 50. But I don't feel running 5 K has much effect on me. I feel that I need more. So I run more. By the way, if you over-trained, your knees and ankles would let you know. They keep us on leash.

    October 12, 2014 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.