US researchers surveyed 284 members of a nationwide running club and 156 healthy controls who were recruited from university faculty and staff.
All participants were older than 50 when the study began in 1984. Each year participants completed an annual questionnaire until 2005, providing information on exercise frequency, body mass index and disability level.
After 19 years, 81 runners (15%) had died, compared with 144 controls (34%) and disability levels were lower in the running group.
Authors from Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, pointed towards improved cardiovascular fitness, improving aerobic capacity, increased bone mass and other health benefits of running.
They added: ‘Our findings of decreased disability in addition to prolonged survival among middle-aged and older adults participating in routine physical activities further support recommendations to encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity at all ages.’
Archives of Internal Medicine (2008) 168: 1638-1646