How This One Exercise Can Add Years to Your Life

Live longer in just minutes per day.

How This One Exercise Can Add Years to Your Life

What if there was one activity you could do for two hours each week that helped you live three years longer? Good news: there is. Better news: you don’t need fancy machines or expensive personal trainers. All you need to do is run. Regular running—even just a few minutes a day—will help make your RealAge younger than your biological age, showing that your body has fewer miles on it than your actual age would suggest.

Pound the pavement, live longer
A March 2017 study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases analyzed data from more than 55,000 people, as well as the results of other large studies. Researchers concluded that running may offer more longevity benefits than other types of physical activity.

In the study, people who only ran had a 30 percent lower risk of dying early than people who were wholly inactive. People who were active but did not run had just a 12 percent reduced risk. People who ran and were active in other ways saw the biggest benefit—a 43 percent reduced risk of mortality. The authors concluded that runners could expect to live, on average, 3.2 years longer than non-runners.

Just minutes per day

Participants in the study ran an average of two hours per week, which is actually less than the 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. The authors crunched the numbers and determined that one hour of running translates to about seven hours of longer life.

The March 2017 data was based on an older study, published in August 2014 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). The JACC study suggested that even five or ten minutes of running per day at a slow pace significantly reduces the risk of dying early of any cause or dying of cardiovascular disease. Of course, runners generally tend to have healthier lifestyles; they don't usually smoke, for example. But even after researchers adjusted for these factors, runners still came out on top in terms of longevity.

Start a running routine
You don’t have to sign up for a marathon to get the benefits of a longer life. If you’re new to running, it’s best to start slowly to avoid injury.

  • Invest in a good pair of running shoes. Local athletic stores or running shops can help fit you for the best pair.
  • If you haven’t exercised in a while, start with a walk. A daily stroll can still help reduce your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and maybe even cardiovascular diseases. Any exercise is better than none, according to federal health officials. Even a quick two-minute bout of physical activity offers health benefits.
  • If you’re ready to run, try intervals. Warm-up with a 5-minute walk. Then run for one minute and walk for two minutes. Repeat 10 times before cooling down with a walk. Changing your speed may help improve muscle strength and blood pressure.
  • As you gain endurance, increase your running intervals beyond one minute by adding 30 second increments each week, while decreasing your rest. . Before you know it, you’ll be running a mile without stopping.

Keep tabs on your progress by using a tracking app. One option is Sharecare (available on iOS and Android), which has a built-in steps tracker. Try to go a little bit further and take a few more steps every run.

Medically reviewed in July 2021.

Sources:
Lee DC, Brellenthin AG, Thompson PD, Sui X, Lee IM, Lavie CJ. “Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity.” Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. March 30, 2017.
Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. “Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology. August 5, 2014.
US Department of Health and Human Services. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition.” 2019.
Julie Corliss. “Moving from couch to 5K.” Harvard Health. April 30, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “More People Walk to Better Health.” August 6, 2013.
Cleveland Clinic. “How To Start A Running Program For Beginners.” April 10, 2020.

More On Fitness

How a Bus Ride Makes You Fit

article

How a Bus Ride Makes You Fit
Not getting the recommended 30 minutes of exercise each day? Then take the bus. Yep, a little public transportation may be just the ticket to getting...
Take a Vacation—But Not From Your Workout

article

Take a Vacation—But Not From Your Workout
When entrepreneurial gadfly Richard Branson owned the hideaway for celebs, La Residencia, in Majorca, Spain, everyone from Princess Diana and Harrison...
Why Diet and Exercise Don’t Work—9 Questions for Dan Buettner

article

Why Diet and Exercise Don’t Work—9 Questions for Dan Buettner
Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author. He discovered the five places in the world—dubbed “Blue Z...
Air Pollution: Do the Benefits of Exercise Outweigh the Risks of Exercising Outdoors?

article

Air Pollution: Do the Benefits of Exercise Outweigh the Risks of Exercising Outdoors?
As the population grows in and around cities, unfortunately, so does air pollution. A new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and C...