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Running Could Add 3 Years to Your Lifespan

Just 5 to 10 minutes a day seems to bring benefits, study says

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"The mortality [death] benefits in runners were similar across running time, distance, frequency, amount and speed," Lee said. The benefits held firm even after the researchers took into account for factors such as weight, smoking, drinking or health problems.

However, runners need to keep at it. Persistent runners -- those who had been running regularly for an average of six years -- had the greatest benefit, the study authors found.

Improved heart and lung function appears to be key to running's health benefits, Lee said. Runners in the study had 30 percent better fitness than nonrunners, and their fitness increased with the amount of time they spent running.

Dr. Michael Scott Emery, co-chair of the American College of Cardiology's Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council, found it "a little surprising that 5 or 10 minutes of running had such an impact on health."

Emery, a cardiologist in Greenville, S.C., said, "This shows your biggest bang for the buck is just getting up and doing something, even if it doesn't meet current guidelines. Even a little bit is better than zero."

But, he noted that running does have more potential for injury than walking, including joint problems, ankle sprains, shin splints, back pain and muscle pulls.

People might gain similar benefits from walking the same distance for a longer period of time, he suggested.

"Running has more potential for injury, but walking takes longer," Emery said. "You have to find your own mix, your balance."

Lee agreed that people interested in running should start out slow and build up over time.

"Running is a vigorous-intensity activity, thus it is recommended that inactive people can start walking to reduce injury risk before they start running," he said.

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