There are a lot of great things to be said about running. It’s a good excuse to get outside, it’s great for your heart and it can set you up for a consistent exercise habit thanks to that “runner’s high” sensation.
Scientists have long known that exercise helps people live longer, but now there’s evidence suggesting that running could be one of the best activities to lengthen our lifespans. A new study published in the science journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease found that running is associated with a 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of premature death, and that runners tend to outlive non-runners by 3.2 years.
Researchers examined data from 55,000 participants to examine the relationship between health and mortality. They found that no matter what pace runners ran at or how many miles they ran, their risk of premature death dropped by as much as 40 percent. This was even true when the researchers controlled for other lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and health conditions such as obesity.
What’s perhaps most surprising is that running seemed to have greater longevity benefits than other forms of physical activity, such as walking and cycling. Runners had a 30 percent lower risk of premature death than non-runners who were still active by engaging in other forms of physical activity.
The good news about these findings is that participants didn’t necessarily need to spend long periods of time running every day to outlive their non-running counterparts, and more time spent running wasn’t linked to increased benefits. On average, the runners in this study spent about two hours per week running.
The researchers found that for every cumulative hour a person ran, about seven hours was added to their life. The longevity benefits seemed to taper off at about four hours a week of running, though participants could keep running without any counterproductive effects on longevity.
This particular study was conducted as a followup to a previous one, which found that as as little as five minutes of running was linked to longer lifespans. Combining running with other forms of physical activity, however, proved to have the greatest benefits, which showed a 43 percent reduced risk of premature death.
Researchers can’t yet explain why running is associated with increased longevity benefits compared to other forms of physical activity. Other forms of physical activity like walking and cycling were linked to a 12 percent reduced risk of premature death, even if the level of exertion was comparable to running.
Despite the benefits of running, this doesn’t mean that everyone who wants to live longer should take up running. Running is a high-impact activity that can be hard on some people’s joints and the idea of running long distances right off the bat may seem daunting to any beginner or inexperienced runner.
According to WebMD, anyone looking to start a running habit should focus on their diet, find a running buddy, pace themselves and use the walk-run ratio to slowly work up toward getting the body well acquainted with running. Starting out by aiming to run for 5 to 10 seconds out of every minute allows the body to adjust and increase time spent running as the muscles and joints grow stronger.
This article originally appeared on Care2.com.