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Runners Live Longer – Even Slow Ones

Running regularly for years prolongs life, even if you run slowly. The Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study in Dallas followed more than 55,000 adults between 18 and 100 for 15 years, and found that those who ran regularly lived three years longer than people who didn't run, no matter what speed they ran (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, August 5, 2014). Regular runners had a 30 percent reduced risk of dying and a 45 percent reduced risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.

It Doesn't Take Very Much Running
The runners lived longer even if they ran only a weekly total of one or two times, less than 51 minutes, fewer than six miles, or slower than six miles per hour. Those who ran less than an hour per week reduced their risk of dying as much as runners who ran more than three hours. However, to gain such a spectacular increase in life span, a person had to run regularly for more than six years.

However, running causes a high rate of injuries, such as damage to the knees and hips, pulled muscles, sprained tendons or back pain. When you run, you take both feet off the ground at the same time, so the faster you run, the harder your feet hit the ground and this impact is transmitted up your legs and back to increase risk for injuring yourself. Running a mile in six minutes has an average impact force of your feet on the ground of more than three times your body weight. Running causes more injuries than any other sport.

Vigorous Walking is Safer
When you walk, you always keep at least one foot on the ground, so your impact force is rarely greater than your body weight. Walking injuries are incredibly unusual. Since this study shows that slow running is as beneficial as fast running, vigorous walking should be able to provide you with the same health benefit as running without being as likely to cause injuries.

This study and many others show that the more intensely you exercise, the fitter you are. Fitness means to be able to move faster, lift heavier, and be more coordinated in the ways that you move. Higher levels of fitness make you a better athlete so you can walk or run faster, lift heavier and function better in competition. It also will make you more coordinated so that you are less likely to fall. A major cause of disability in older people is falling.

How to Walk Faster
You can walk faster either by taking longer steps or by moving your feet faster. To lengthen your stride, twist your hips from side to side and reach forward with your feet. Pointing your feet forward after your heel strikes the ground helps you gain a few inches.

It’s easier and safer for most people to increase their leg speed than to lengthen their stride. If you move your arms faster, your legs will move faster also. When you walk, your arms balance your body. Every time one leg moves forward, the arm on the same side moves back and the arm on the other side moves forward. For every step forward, there is an equal number of arm movements forward and back. It takes more time for your arms to swing further with straight elbows, so keep your elbows bent.

Starting Your Walking Program
If you are not a regular exerciser, you may want to check with your doctor to see if you have any condition that will be aggravated by exercise. Then start out by walking at a slow and comfortable pace. Stop when your legs start to feel heavy or hurt. Do this every day and gradually increase the time you spend walking until you can walk continuously and comfortably for 30 minutes. Most healthy people should be able to do this in just a few weeks. Now you should be ready to increase the intensity of your walking program.

Intervals to Walk More Vigorously
Athletes in every sport use a training technique called intervals in which they move faster for a short period, recover by exercising at a slower pace, and then move very fast again. Intervals are more efficient than continuous exercise because you get more intense exercise in less time. To use intervals in your walking program, start out very slowly and walk for at least five minutes. Then gradually pick up the pace for a few seconds and then slow down for as long as you want. When you feel fresh again, pick up the pace for a few seconds. Continue to alternate the stress and recover intervals until your legs start to feel heavy and then stop for the day. Try to do this workout every day. If your legs feel heavy or hurt from the previous day's workout, take the day off. Gradually work up to about 30 seconds of vigorous walking for each interval. If you do this interval-type training for about 30 minutes every day, you will become more fit and you may also prolong your life.

Checked 8/1/15

August 3rd, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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