Is Light Jogging More Heart Healthy Than Strenuous Running?

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A report from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in February, 2015, adds to the evidence that a little bit of regular jogging at a slow pace is very good for your heart - maybe even better than running at faster paces for longer periods of time.

The study, which enrolled 1098 healthy joggers and 3950 healthy non-joggers, revealed that people who routinely engage in slow jogging (at a speed of less than 5 miles per hour), for less than 2.5 hours per week, had a significant 71% reduction in death from any cause, compared with sedentary individuals.

And even people who regularly ran at this pace for less than 1 hour per week had a 53% reduction in mortality.

These results are consistent with findings reported in 2014 from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics in Dallas, which found that people who ran slowly (less than 6 miles per hour) for 5- 10 minutes per day had the same reduction in mortality as those who ran much faster, and for much longer periods of time. This small amount of jogging not only produced a 30% reduction in mortality, but also yielded a 45% reduction in cardiovascular disease, and added up to 3 years of life expectancy.

From studies like these, it now appears that even short periods of regular jogging can induce the positive, heart-healthy, physiologic changes produced by exercise - changes that can improve your general fitness and help prevent heart disease. In fact, light jogging seems to induce a nearly optimal amount of these heart-healthy changes.

Is More Than A Little Bit of Jogging Too Much?

Perhaps the most surprising result from the Copenhagen study was that healthy joggers who ran more than just a “little bit” (that is, more than 2.5 hours per week), or much faster than the slow joggers (specifically, faster than 7 miles per hour), actually had NO improvement in overall mortality when compared to non-joggers.

For people who (like your humble author) have been dedicated runners for several decades, this finding seems a little disturbing. Is it real?

This same finding was not seen in the Cooper Institute study, in which those who ran more strenuously had about the same benefit as those who jogged a little bit - which is to say, they did quite a bit better than sedentary people. It is also in contrast to numerous other studies showing that regular runners have a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than sedentary people.

An editorial accompanying the Copenhagen study points out that, in this study, it turns out that only a few enrolled joggers ran at a fast pace or for several hours per week, and that, therefore, the study was not statistically powered to measure the effects of more strenuous running.

So, while it is certainly interesting that more dedicated runners in this study did no better than non-joggers, we cannot draw any general conclusions from this observation. Dedicated runners can fully expect better cardiovascular outcomes than sedentary people.

But, somewhat surprisingly, they probably should not expect better cardiovascular outcomes than people who jog slowly, for short periods of time.

The Bottom Line

It is now well established, from numerous medical studies, that getting enough exercise is critical to living a long life in good health. Regular exercise produces a very favorable kind of stress on your cardiovascular system that strengthens your heart and blood vessels, lowers your resting blood pressure and heart rate, and improves your blood lipid levels, your ability to metabolize carbohydrates, and your neurohormonal activity. In stark contrast, being sedentary causes the opposite effects.

For this reason, experts agree that we should all perform at least 30 minutes a day of “modest activity” (that is, the equivalent of walking at about 3 - 4 miles per hour.)

However, despite these "official" guidelines, it is now emerging that we can get the same kind of benefit in a shorter period of time if we pick up the pace a bit, and engage in a few minutes of slow jogging, a few times per week. The jogging (as opposed to “mere” brisk walking) likely crosses a “physiologic stress” threshold, producing the kind of “good stress” your cardiovascular system needs in order to produce optimally beneficial changes. In fact, running harder or longer may really not add much (if any) additional benefit to the slow jog.

If you want to run faster or longer, of course, you may experience other benefits from doing so, such as promoting weight loss or improving your mental health. But the “extra” running may not add substantially (if at all) to the cardiovascular benefits realized by those who just jog a little bit. 


Schnohr P, O’Keefe JH, Marott JL, et al. Dose of jogging and long-term mortality. J Am Coll Cardiol 2015; 65:411–419.

Lee DC, Lavie CJ, Vedanthan R. Optimal dose of running for longevity. J Am Coll Cardiol 2015; 65:420–422.

bLee DC, Pate RR, Lavie JR, et al. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014; DOI: 10.1016./j.jacc.2014.04.058.

Wen CP, Wai JP, Tsai MK, Chen CH. Minimal amount of exercise to prolong life. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014; DOI: 10.1016./j.jacc.2014.05.026.

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