In the long run, we joggers live longer

By Simon Round, August 28, 2008

This week, I've set myself a tough task - to find a cheerful, upbeat news story. What with the credit crunch, rising food and fuel prices, property values plummeting and unemployment on the way up again, it has been tough to find uplifting subjects for a column, particularly now the Olympics has finished.
However, against the odds I think I've managed to find a way to brighten up your weekend. But first a caveat - if you are a convinced couch potato you might as well stop reading now because there is nothing for you here.

However, if you are middle aged or older and a still little on the sprightly side, by the end of this column I will have imparted to you the secret of long life - who says I never tackle the serious topics?
That's the good news. The bad news is the fact that you cannot add years to your life by eating more cake/salt-beef/kneidlach or by sitting in a comfortable armchair with a stiff drink. No, the secret to a long life is a long run. A study, begun in 1984, found that people aged 50 or over who carried on running into their 70s (obviously they were allowed to stop for a shower and a sandwich in between) were less likely to die and more likely to be more healthy compared to their cake-eating counterparts. After 19 years, 34 per cent of the non-runners had died whereas only 15 per cent of the runners had succumbed (and that includes the runners who had been knocked over because they were paying more attention to their iPods than the traffic). And not only will you live longer, but you will live more healthily - runners developed disabilities on average 16 years later than the non-runners.

However, there are corresponding disadvantages, which I am qualified to tell you about as a runner of 20 years standing (so to speak). The first is the one which defeats around 50 per cent of runners before they so much as pull on a pair of trainers. It's the fact that sitting in front on Top Gear with a nice glass of shiraz usually comes out in polls as more pleasurable than struggling through the sleet and hail of a British August evening.

Secondly, if you actually do make it through the front door you will find yourself out of breath, your legs will ache, you may get pains in your chest and stomach and you will be very stiff the next day - all the symptoms of old age that you are attempting to delay by running.

You will also have lots of extra sweaty running gear to wash, and find yourself spending more at the supermarket because you are far hungrier than you used to be in your sedentary days. There is also the distinct possibility that you may lose friends once you start running. The sport can be addictive - in no time you will be obsessing about whether your shoes are suitable for your running style or perhaps whether you should be investing in orthotics to correct your over-pronation. You may find yourself sneaking out for a crafty jog on weekday evenings when you promised yourself you would confine your running to weekends. Before long you may even feel the need to join a running-addict support group, or running club as they are known. You will be hooked.

But on the other hand, you get to live until you are absurdly old and you are almost certain to experience the runner's high - that sublime feeling of wellbeing at the end of a run when you are slumped with your feet up in front of the telly.

Last updated: 4:32pm, September 23 2009