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Can you jog away from an early grave? This story gives a well-supported, evidence-based answer

Rating

4 Star

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What’s The Optimal Speed For Exercise?

Our Review Summary

Feeling the wind in their hairThe story looks at several studies to address how much time an individual needs to devote to cardiovascular exercise each week in order to significantly reduce their risk of death in a given year. The story also attempts to address whether it is better walk, jog, or run in order to achieve the desired reduction in risk. Ultimately, the story makes three statements: some exercise reduces the risk of death (in a given year); light to moderate jogging (between 5 and 7 miles per hour) is the optimal pace; and if you do 25 minutes of jogging at this pace, three times per week, “you’re all set.” Although the language used in places is not as precise as we’d like (based on the available evidence, we can’t really say whether exercise at a given intensity “reduces” death risk as the story states, merely that it is “associated with” lower risk), the coverage overall is thorough and balanced. The story is up front with readers about the limitations of the studies and provides a clear explanation of them. And it’s hard to argue with the advice that some moderate exercise is worthwhile. The story would have been better if it had addressed the fact that running (even recreationally) poses some health risks — and is not an option for many readers.

 

Why This Matters

Staving off death is, naturally, an issue of widespread interest. The story focuses on walking, jogging, and running as ways to keep in shape and reduce the risk of mortality in a given year. And jogging and running are incredibly popular in the United States. According to Running USA, a running industry organization, more than 54 million Americans did at least some running in 2014 — and more than 29 million people go running at least 50 times a year. That kind of participation means that people are devoting millions of hours (and millions of dollars) to competitive or recreational running. Presumably, they derive some satisfaction and joy from their exercise routine, so the running is likely about more than simply keeping death at bay. But the popularity of running, the financial impact of the running industry, and the fundamental interest most people have in staying alive for as long as possible, make it worthwhile to determine just how much running is associated with reduced mortality risk in a given year. (Note: we keep saying “in a given year” because, as far as we know, everyone’s long-term mortality risk is 100 percent.)

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The story does not go into the costs associated with running or moderate jogging, but there are few costs that are explicitly associated with it. While runners often spend significant amounts of money for high-end running shoes, lightweight shorts and tops, or to enter races, none of those things are absolutely necessary. Once could jog for 25 minutes, three times a week, in any old clothes, wearing inexpensive shoes (or no shoes at all). In short, the amount of money that people can choose to spend on running is so widely variable as to make a discussion of costs effectively meaningless. For that reason, we’ll call this n/a.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The sole benefit discussed in the story is percent reduction in risk of death in a given year. The story explains this clearly, so it gets a satisfactory. It would have been more interesting — but significantly more complicated — if it had discussed the ways in which cardiovascular exercise reduces the risk of death. Which health risks are addressed here? Heart disease? Hypertension? Also, the story doesn’t look at some of the other benefits of running or jogging, such as possible quality of life benefits. Most runners, for example, actually enjoy running. Still, that wasn’t the focal point of the story.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Even moderate jogging carries health risks — more for some people than others. Running can cause joint problems, shin splints, and aggravate lower back strains, among other things (it’s done all three things for at least one of our reviewers). And people with heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease or other serious ailments should consult a physician before embarking on an exercise regime — even a low-impact one — because they are at higher risk of incurring more serious health problems. Any story that effectively encourages readers to engage in moderate exercise several times a week (which is laudable), should also caution readers about the potential risks involved and how to begin such an exercise regime safely.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The story refers to five different journal articles, making it difficult or impossible to discuss the pros and cons of each paper in a meaningful way (assuming the news story doesn’t want to be exponentially longer than it already is). But the story does a good job hitting the high points. For one thing, the story includes hyperlinks to all of the relevant articles (why don’t all news stories do this?). And the story also highlights the complicated nature of these papers, and ways the researchers tried to address those complications. For example, the story explains the concept of “hazard ratios,” which allows researchers to make comparisons between people of different ages and who, therefore, have very different mortality risks (a 90-year-old is more likely to die this year than a 30-year-old, for example). Similarly, the story also addresses potential confounding variables. For example, that “more intense runners” are less likely to use tobacco than “less intense” runners.

Our only suggestion regarding this criterion relates to the language used in certain places. The story says, for example, that “some exercise reduces your risk of death.” This type of active language suggests that running is causing the reduction in risk, but the studies referred to in the piece are observational in nature and are incapable of proving cause and effect. It would be more accurate to state that running is “linked to” lower risk, “associated with” lower risk, and so on, rather than that it “reduces” or “lowers” the risk.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

Death is the only health endpoint discussed here, and as the story accurately points out, “ultimately everyone dies.” We’ll rule this Satisfactory.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

In a sense, this story is a data-driven op-ed piece — there are no quotes from any outside sources. The story does link to all of the relevant source material, which is great, but the story could have been stronger if it had gotten input from, well, anyone in the medical community with relevant expertise that could have helped readers synthesize all of the study data the story cites. For example, it’s possible that a clinical professional would have pointed out the potential harms of running and helped readers sort through the tradeoffs involved — making the overall coverage more useful.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story makes clear early on that it is not looking at other forms of exercise, but explains the concept of “metabolic equivalent of task” measurements (or METS) which can be used to determine the “energy intensity” of various activities. It does mention a few other activities, such as yoga and cycle spinning, that may also be associated with mortality benefits. Presumably, one could use the METs associated with other exercises — such as bicycling, swimming or rowing — to find which exercises/paces are comparable to jogging 5-7 mph. However, that would take some homework, because while the story explains what METs are, it doesn’t tell readers how many METs are associated with the “optimal” moderate jogging pace.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Most people are aware that walking, jogging and running are exercise options. So while no specific comment was made about availability, we’ll rule it Not Applicable. The story could have touched on availability in the sense that injuries, mobility issues, and health problems might prevent some people from participating in such activities.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story not only points to multiple studies, published between 2013 and 2015, but it also includes links to several stories in other news outlets on similar subjects. The novelty here is the author’s own analysis of the literature and the conclusions that she reaches. It is not presented as breaking news, but rather as the author’s interpretation of the available evidence.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

The work does not appear to be based on a news release or other promotional materials.

Total Score: 6 of 8 Satisfactory

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