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Can Running Help You Live Longer?

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Running is one of the best forms of exercise you can engage in, with a plethora of short and long term benefits.

Some of the merits of this recreational activity are obvious, like reaching weight loss goals, improving endurance, or boosting your energy.

Medical research even suggests that runners could have longer lifespans.

If the statements above are true, and runners are healthier than non-runners, how does this sport affect their access to life insurance, which is rooted in risk assessment?

Let’s run with the data and see just how far the sport’s benefits go.

Who’s Running?

gal running gravel pathRunning is an incredibly popular pastime in the US and abroad. Statista estimates 55.9 million people in the US alone engage in running, trail running, and jogging.

We can gain even more insight into the demographics of runners by looking at data compiled from running events.

Citing Running USA’s annual national survey, the nonprofit 26.2 Foundation reports 18.7 million people crossed the finish line in running events in the US.

57% of those runners were women, and over half of the participants fell between the ages of 25 to 44.

While the majority of individuals lacing up on race day are millennials, a large percentage of Gen X and Baby Boomers (and occasionally beyond) hit the pavement.

Take Lary Cole for example. The 85-year-old Korean War vet was the oldest runner of the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Granted, the majority of marathon runners aren’t in their eighties.

Cole is an extraordinary example and competitive running dwindles with age, but a significant amount of the population, young and old, run on a regular basis.

Potential Benefits of Running

Whether they’re trekking through the woods, sprinting down a track, or jogging on a treadmill, runners come to the sport with different motivations.

The benefits of running are versatile and far from limited to losing weight or winning a trophy.

Let’s consider a few of the most rewarding aspects of running:

Unlocking Happiness

Ever heard of runner’s high? Running is the ultimate mood booster, releasing happy hormones like dopamine.

A 2006 Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise study tracked the positive effects of walking on a treadmill in subjects with major depressive disorder, charting a major improvement in the runners’ dispositions after just half an hour of exercise.

Another study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2002 suggests running for even 30 minutes a week improves not only your mood, but also your ability to focus during the day and sleep soundly at night.

Fighting Cancer

Christine M. Friedenrich and Marla R. Orenstein’s 2002 article, “Physical Activity and Cancer Prevention,” compiled 170 studies regarding the impact of physical activity on the risk of cancer.

Because running regulates hormone levels and results in a decrease in obesity, it could lessen your likelihood of developing some forms of cancer, particularly breast and colon cancer.

Additionally, the study suggested there is increasing evidence that

 exercise also influences other aspects of the cancer experience, including cancer detection, coping, rehabilitation and survival after diagnosis.”

Losing Weight

Many people resort to running because a doctor encourages the activity for weight loss. Others hit the ground running of their own volition, motivated to get their health on track.

Whether it’s a prescription or a New Year’s resolution, they’re on the right track.

Running is one of the simplest ways to burn calories and effectively shed pounds.

It’s also an excellent strategy to maintain a healthy weight and stay in shape. You don’t have to be an Olympic sprinter or endurance runner to lose weight, either.

Running at even a slightly intense pace could induce what exercise enthusiasts refer to as afterburn, an occurrence where your body keeps burning calories even after you’ve kicked off your tennis shoes.

Strengthening Your Body

If you’ve been a runner for long, you’ve probably been cautioned, perhaps by a concerned bystander at the gym, about the damage it will do to your knees, hips, or ankles.

While running demonstrably improves bone strength, the jury has been out for some time on the effects running has on the knees’ joints.

Though people have long held the assumption that running wears down your joints, a 2017 study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy suggests otherwise.

The study looked at the volume of occurrences of osteoarthritis in non-runners, habitual runners, and competitive runners to gauge the role running plays in the development of the condition.

The conclusion? It all depends on how much, or how little, you run:

These results indicated that a more sedentary lifestyle or long exposure to high-volume and/or high intensity running are both associated with hip and/or knee OA.”

Recreational runners were the least likely to have osteoarthritis.

The further you push the limit with your running routines, the higher the risk of joint damage you incur.

With measured efforts, you can maintain your joints and build up bone mass by running.

Living Longer

With all of the benefits above comes a natural follow-up question: Does running affect mortality?

Recent scientific studies lean towards yes.

Melissa Morris, a nutrition and kinesiology professor at the University of Tampa explains,

Research indicates than runners live about three more years than non-runners and have a lower risk of death from any cause and death from a cardiovascular event. Even small amounts, like 5 to 10 minutes a day, can result in these benefits.” (Lee et al., 2014)

As suggested in Friedenrich and Orenstein’s study, running can lengthen cancer patients’ lives, as well as smokers.

If you’re looking to turn back the clock and make up for poor health choices, running could be just the lifeline you need.

Runners and Risks

The data presented above is great news for competitive runners and recreational joggers alike.

You could be adding years to your life when you hit the track, improving your mindset, confidence, and focus along the way.

But could the healthy rewards of running reach beyond your physical well-being to impact your finances?

Of all the insurance products you can purchase, life insurance is perhaps the most dependent on an assessment of your physical health over the long haul.

Everything from the premiums you pay to the amount of coverage you’re eligible for is tied to your risk factors, chief of which is your health.

Risk Factors Underwriters Consider

Running could work to your advantage as life insurance companies look at the following factors to determine where to classify you on the risk scale:

  • Weight: Being overweight or losing weight overnight aren’t likely to help you in the life insurance department. But a track record of maintaining a healthy weight, which can be achieved by routine running, will improve your rates.
  • Cardiovascular health: Closely tied to your weight, underwriters will look at your cardiovascular health to assess risk. As evidenced above, running can reduce the risk of death associated with heart disease.
  • Hypertension: Along those lines, high blood pressure can increase your risk and effectively your rates. Running on the regular could help combat hypertension.
  • Cholesterol: Running can also improve cholesterol levels, lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and boosting HDL (good cholesterol).

Running may reduce the risk you pose to insurers in the areas above, but some factors are harder to change by exercising.

Underwriters will also classify you based on your age, gender, family health history, medications, and other illnesses.

They’ll even look at your job and hobbies, so if you take to the skies as a pilot or parachuter on your days off from running, your life insurance rates will be impacted.

Does Running Make You Riskier to Insure?

Conversely, running does pose its own risks.

When you’re constantly racing to the finish line, you run the risk of bodily injury.

Morris comments,

As with any physical activity, there are risks associated with running. Musculoskeletal injuries, cardiac events, heat-related injuries, and even death can occur in runners.”

While these consequences sound dire, they aren’t fatal frequently enough to impact your access to life insurance, though professional distance runners may want to consider purchasing accident insurance, just in case.

Your life insurance rates won’t be harmed, but for your own well-being, Morris suggests “Adequate rest, hydration, recovery, training, and nutrition can help lessen the chance of any of these from happening.”

Can Running Save You Money on Life Insurance?

As you can see, running can help you to keep risk factors at bay, securing your place in better insurance rating classes.

While the runner’s advantage may have ended there a few years ago, the life insurance industry is ever-evolving.

Some providers are taking it a step further by rewarding runners for their commitment to pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

One company leading the movement is Health IQ. Rather than simply using models like the BMI to assess your weight, they measure hip to waist ratio, factoring in runners with muscular figures.

In addition to traditional underwriting questions, they inquire about your running activity.

If you can track and verify your mileage and level of activity, Health IQ could get you special runner’s rates from top providers, shaving off a few extra dollars on your premiums.

Final Thoughts

There is no shortage of benefits to running. It’s a free, fairly easy, and fulfilling form of exercise.

Whether you’re a seasoned sprinter or a desk worker antsy to get moving, running is a surefire strategy for improving and maintaining good health.

As a bonus, you could end up saving thousands of dollars on life insurance over the years.

Whatever your fitness goals are, you won’t regret lacing up and joining the running community.

Author:

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Parker King

Parker King is a researcher and editorial writer with a Masters in Professional Communication from Clemson University. She has years of experience in the nonprofit sector and writing in the world of personal finance, insurance, and other topics.

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