Will Running or Walking Make You Live Longer? (Which Will Cost You More?)


I recently asked an orthopedist: “What is better for your health, walking or running?”

Without any hesitation, he smiled and said, “Running. It’s putting my kids through college.”

My wife, Marea, runs three to five miles most days, while I briskly walk 3.5 miles around the neighborhood in slightly less than an hour.  So, “medically speaking,” who is really better off?

According to a recent article in Prevention, a brisk daily walk will lower a person’s overall risk of death by 25%. A similar sentiment was echoed in The Guardian, which reported that a daily walk can increase a person’s lifespan by three to seven years and reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack by 50%.  Dr. I-Min Lee of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that each minute of a stimulating walk can add up to 7 minutes of life.

Conversely, studies show that people who run seven-minute miles, or a total of 25 miles per week, are no healthier than those of us who strictly exercise by lifting a TV remote. In fact, more than an hour of strenuous activity can actually stretch heart chambers or create micro-tears in the heart, which could potentially cause more damage than eating Twinkies while watching cable news.

I can assure you that regardless of what my future health may hold, I’ll never suffer from a stretched heart chamber caused by exercising too much.

The Prevention piece also claims that running as much as my wife does will not help a person lose weight unless the workout is accompanied by a diet.  Worst of all, vigorous exercise also increases a woman’s appetite while reducing the body’s immune system. So theoretically, if you run 5 miles a day and then comfort your aching body with a quart of ice cream, you’ll probably gain weight and end up with a horrible bout of the flu.

Best of all, it doesn’t matter when you start, so put down that remote, purchase a pairs of stretch pants, and begin walking with a friend. Something as simple as a twenty-minute march can reduce the aging process and may also act as an anti-depressant during stock market corrections.

Since I need my wife to take care of me as I gracefully age, I need to convince her to moderate her workout routine.  Of course, from a health care-cost perspective, living longer is going to be expensive.  An extra three years of life will cost a 55-year-old healthy woman living to age 92 over $133,000 in basic health care expenses. (Although, can one really put a price on an extra year of healthy living?)

The good news is that on an annual basis, it will cost the 55 year old less than people who don’t exercise in moderation. And as always, I recommend having a financial professional develop a plan to help you maintain that healthy retirement lifestyle.

Probably more important than living longer is maintaining good health and being in control of your life as you age. A healthy 55 year-old female has over a 50% chance of needing some type of long-term care services, and the average length of stay for a female in a nursing home is estimated to be a little over two years. From my point of view, if walking 20 minutes a day can keep me out of a nursing home, I’d be eager to lace up a new pair of Nikes.

If walking doesn’t suit you, try chasing your kids, grandkids, or significant other around the house.

If you do run, listen to your body. It will help you avoid having to visit my friend, the orthopedist.  Let’s force him to pay for college tuitions out of his own pocket and not yours.

Basically, wellness is the way to go.  It saves lives and money, and wellness programs will be greatly expanded in the future.  Even today, you may receive employee benefits, such as a free membership or an employer cash contribution to your HSA, for joining a gym. Since you are what you eat, some day you will likely receive cash back from your health insurer based on your buying patterns at the local supermarket.

Eat right, live a longer healthier life, and get paid by your insurer.  Sounds like a walk in the park.