Graham Beaton BHSc, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

A few patients of mine have recently taken up running as a way of getting more physically active and improving their health. Along with their new activity has come the question: “How far/fast/frequently do I have to run for it to benefit my health?” While my standard answer was that to achieve health benefits from physical activity (running or another type of exercise) you have to be active for 30 min/day 5 times per week for cardiovascular health and you would have to be physically active at least 21 minutes per day for mental health (to help with depression and anxiety)”, I decided to look up the latest research to see if there have been changes in what is beneficial for health.

I reviewed three recent studies and two practice guidelines on this topic and here are their findings:

Recent study findings:
1- Findings in the Copenhagen City Heart Study showed that Danish people who spent 1-2.5 hrs/week jogging at a slow or average pace lived longer than sedentary Danes and lived longer than those who ran at a faster pace (increase life expectancy of 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women).
2- A study on Taiwanese participants published in the Lancet that looked at exercise habits of 416,175 adults found that 92 minutes per week of moderate exercise (walking, gentle jogging, cycling( increased life span by close to 3 years and decreased the risk of all cause mortality by 14%. Individuals who exercised more than the 92 minutes per week did get additional benefit (further 4% for each additional 15 minutes of exercise).
3- An American study by Lavie et al. found that amongst those individuals that reported running regularly, those who ran 1.6 to 32.2 kilometers per week at a speed of 9 km/hour reduced their risk of dying during the study as compared to those who did not run or to those who ran more than 20 miles/week or to those who typically ran at a pace of more than 9 km/hour or faster.

Consensus statements and guidelines on physical activity
1- The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences 2010 consensus statement recommends that all healthy adults aged 18-65 should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week (moderate intensity includes activities where heart rate and breathing are raised, but where it is still possible to have a conversation while active; vigorous intensity includes those where heart rate and breathing are higher and it is difficult to have a conversation while active).
2- American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommends for adults aged 18 to 65 years old, moderate intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes per day five days per week or a minimum of 20 minutes per day three times per week of vigorous intensity aerobic activity.

To answer the question of how much, how long and how frequent? The newer evidence seems to suggest to exercise at least for 90 minutes/week at a moderate pace is best – and while this advice is not ready to be adopted into clinical guidelines, I would suggest to do that amount at least, and continue to aim for either 30 minutes per day 5 days per week of moderate intensity exercise or 20 minutes per day 3 days per week of vigorous intensity exercise.

Graham Beaton is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in the Golden Triangle neighborhood of downtown Ottawa. If you have questions on exercise, physical activity, how Naturopathic Medicine can help you or on a specific health concern, give him a call at 613-290-6115.