Decreasing your chances of death by 30% is easier than you think

Everybody probably knows that we are made to move, no movement in our bodies just can mean one thing: death. When we don’t move enough, our health suffers and like the Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University states, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death”.

Although running is a popular leisure-time physical activity, little is known about the long-term effects of running. Running, just 5 to 10 minutes a day even at slow speeds (<10 km/h), reduces all causes of mortality independent of gender, age, body mass index, health behaviour and medical conditions by 29% (1)

Do you want a pill that is free and decreases your chances of death by 29%? Ok, you just need to start running in the proper way.

It’s interesting that running, being the most practised sport in the world, shows a 50% decrease in the number of runners when they reach the age of 45 and an additional 50% decline when they reach the age of 50. The question here is: do we stop running because we’re getting old, or do we get old because we stop running?

Are we the “Homo Runner”?

What most people probably don’t know yet is that humans are very well designed to run. We could say that running made us humans. If we weren’t able to run the way we run, our morphology would be similar to an hominid, not a human. Running is so natural to us than a trained middle-aged person is able to run a marathon at an average speed of 11km/h, meaning a time of 3 hours, 44 minutes. Such ability is not very common in the animal kingdom. As an example a human, on a hot day, could even outrun a horse in a marathon.

But why are we so good at endurance running? Basically because we’re the best at one thing: sweating. Yes, it’s not very sexy but it’s really effective to dissipate the body heat. Hairless skin for sweating; an upright position where the contact of the sun on our bodies is much smaller, especially in the middle of the day; and our ability to breathe independently from the gait, allow us to refrigerate ourselves very efficiently.

In addition to that, in 2004 Bramble and Lieberman (2) discovered a set of biomechanical and musculoskeletal adaptations in humans whose existence makes more sense specifically for running rather than just walking. For instance, we have in our anatomy arches in our feet and long spring-like tendons that exchanges gravitational energy into free elastic energy for forward propulsion. This allow us to run a marathon spending almost the same energy whether we jog or we run at an elite pace, and only 30% more than if we walk those 42km (3). We also have anatomical features that provide stabilization like the erector spinae muscles, the gluteus maximus and the nuchal ligament; and, contrary to what is believed, we’re very well designed to absorb the stress generated by impact forces at running speed, not just at walking speed.

The reality is that in order to be pretty good as long-distance runners, we became weaker and slower. It was an evolutionary trade off. Evolution doesn’t create the best possible outcomes, it creates what works for the species. For example, the fastest human footspeed on record is 44.64 km/h (27.7 mph) while even the domestic cat may reach 48 km/h (30 mph).

Those are the facts and the idea is simple: you are human, you run and your chances to be healthy are greater. It happens sometimes that our own story and lifestyle makes it difficult to create the habit of running. If that’s the case, find a running coach whose focus is on your health, they will help you to overcome both the physical and psychological factors that prevent you from starting to run.

If you become a well-educated runner, your injury rates are reduced and the chances of achieving your goals are higher. And what better goal than being a healthy and happy human practicing the activity you are born to do?

Want to learn more about this? Join Runity’s introductory course for free.

References

  1. Lee D-C, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. J Am Coll Cardiol. United States; 2014
  2. Bramble, D. M. & Lieberman, D. E. (2004) Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature 432, 345–352.
  3. Lieberman DE, Bramble DM. The evolution of marathon running: capabilities in humans. Sports Med [Internet]. 2007
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