There is no longer any reason to envy ultra-marathon runners (other than for their superhuman dedication and achievement). Research has found that people who run less than an hour a week get basically the same health benefits as people who run more often or for longer periods of time, regardless of other factors like sex, body mass index or whether or not they smoke.
The report found that runners lived on average three years longer than non-runners, and had a 30 percent overall lower risk of death and 45 percent risk of death by stroke or heart disease. The activity can even balance out other health risks like obesity, high blood pressure and smoking.
USA Today spoke with cardiologist and study co-author Carl Lavie about practical applications of the findings:
The study only examined running as a leisure-time exercise, but Lavie said the physical exercise could be translated to other activities, such as biking or walking. However, running is "more intense" than those activities and would require people to walk two times farther than if they ran, and three to four times farther if they bike.
If you want to improve your health, you should start with a slow run interspersed with periods of walking. Gradually, you can begin to jog and eventually run. In an ideal world, Lavie says, we would all exercise 30 to 40 minutes a day, but you'll still get the health benefits from a five-minute daily commitment. You officially can no longer use the "I don't have any time" excuse.