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Four-minute milers live longer. What this means for slow pokes?

Roger Bannister  was the first to break the four-minute mile. Some thought it could never be done.

Roger Bannister was the first to break the four-minute mile. Some thought it could never be done. Photo: Getty

Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile, died just 20 days shy of his 89th birthday.

John Landy, the second man to break the four-minute barrier, died at 91.

Was this the beginning of a trend? Does running a mile in less than four minutes guarantee a longer life than most people?

It seems to.

A new study from Australian and Canadian researchers looked at the health records of the first 200 runners to break four minutes.

These included runners from the UK, Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States who were born between 1928 and 1955. All 200 runners were men.

The researchers found that these elite athletes, on average, lived almost five years longer than the slowpoke general population.

Although 60 of the runners had died, most of them had lived well into their 70s and 80s. And a majority were alive and healthy.

Before you put on your running shoes, with a view to cracking the magic mile, take a moment to consider how exclusive this four-minute club is.

Compared to climbing Mount Everest

Cracking the four-minute mile was once compared to climbing Mount Everest. Until they actually happened, both were considered undoable.

Getting to the top of Everest, with air brutally thin, was seen as a physiological impossibility. Whereas the four-minute mile was seen as a psychological barrier.

At last count, 6664 different people have climbed Everest.

In contrast, only 1755 men have run the four-minute mile, as of 2022, according to the National Union of Track Statisticians.

Meanwhile, no female runner has yet broken the four-minute barrier.

What the researcher says

Professor André La Gerche heads the Heart, Exercise and Research Trials Laboratory jointly supported by the St Vincent’s Institute and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

“Our study set out to see how exercise affected elite athletes over the long term,” he said in a prepared statement.

“We know that elite athletes have bigger hearts due to their sustained aerobic output and there was some belief that this could affect their health and longevity, but we found the opposite.”

He said five years of extra life compared to average “is very significant, especially when we found that many of these runners not only enjoyed long lives but were also healthy too”.

In other words, they lived better, for longer.

“Not everyone needs to be able to run a sub-four-minute mile to enjoy good health long into old age, but they need to exercise regularly and push themselves aerobically.”

What’s in it for you?

No, you’re not going to crack the four-minute barrier, except maybe on a bicycle.

But as we reported in 2022, there’s growing evidence that running just five to 10 minutes a day – at a moderate pace of just under 10 kilometres per hour – reduces the risk of death from heart attack or stroke.

It also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, developing cancer and developing neurological diseases such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Runners live three to five years longer than non-runners, generally speaking. And those benefits are to be had, on the face of it, for relatively small effort

See here for how to get started.

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