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Do Swimmers Live Longer than Runners?

Results from a recent University of South Carolina study lead by Professor Steven N. Blair may create waves in the running community.

After thoroughly examining medical and physical activity data on 40,000 men (ages 20 to 90), Dr. Blair and his crew have concluded that in addition to having 53% lower mortality rates than their sedentary peers (no big surprise there), swimmers ALSO have a 49% lower mortality rate than runners! In other words, according to the findings, swimmers have a 49% better chance of staying alive this year than runners. Hmmmm, could there be something fishy in these chlorinated water results?

Freestyle swimmer

If true, this information could be quite revealing because most people probably assume that all forms of exercise provide similar health benefits. But, I'm always skeptical of studies, so let's "peek under the hood" of this one to determine where the results are coming from:

Dr. Blair's group of 40,547 men (average age of 47) were selected from patients of a preventative medicine clinic in Dallas, TX (Cooper Clinic). Of the 40,000+ men, 15,883 were deemed sedentary (ie, couch potatoes), 20,356 were runners (15min./mile pace or faster), 3,746 were walkers (15min./mile pace or slower) and 562 were swimmers (actual swimmers, not water aerobics, water joggers etc.). Over the course of 13 years, a total of 3,386 of these 40K Cooper Clinic patients died: 1747 sedentary (11%); 292 walkers (7.8%); 1336 runners (6.6%); and only 11 swimmers (1.9%). Wow, that's quite a difference! And, the fact that the sedentary mortality rate is significantly higher than walkers, and walkers higher than runners lends credibility to these figures in my opinion.

Professor Blair and his team do not offer any hypothesis regarding the significantly lower swimmer mortality number stating only, "These lower rates compared with walkers and sedentary men might well be expected, but it is unclear why we also observed lower mortality in swimmers than in runners."

Making the lower mortality rate even more perplexing are the results from an earlier study of Dr. Blair's that found swimmers having a higher BMI (Body Mass Index), higher fasting-blood glucose, and higher blood pressures. Swimmers were found to have a lower total cholesterol and higher HDL (good cholesterol), however.

Although the study was partially funded by the National Swimming Pool Foundation, I find no obvious stretches of data or leaps of faith to doubt the findings--the numbers are what they are.

This one study may not cause runners to immediately exchange their shoes for fins, but cross-training in the pool a couple days a week may be the right combination to improve your overall fitness and keep you alive longer than the rest of the members in your jogging group.

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swimming in a pool - chlorine

swimming in a pool - chlorine - bad news.

swimming in the ocean - sharks - bad news.

swimming in a lake - safer - ok news.

running on the road - body takes a beating - bad news.

running in a field - better - watch for holes.

running on a trail - broken ankles - OUCH!

running/swimming in a salt pool - now we're getting somewhere.

Personal Observations: I

Personal Observations:
I exercise 45 minutes a day, alternating between easy running 3 miles and easy swimming 2 kilometers. I have observed that in running, my internal organs and joints are jared; but in swimming they are not. It is known that evolution adapted the human to run and to swim, but there is more wear, tear and repair in running than in swimming. An advantage in running is the exercise of the eyes in focusing near and far and of the ears in listening. On days when it is raining, I do not exercise and do not feel as mentally energetic and cheerful. Everything gradually atrophies, if is not continously used in moderation.

We are in debt to Blair for research.

One study showed that men

One study showed that men with high blood pressure, but who could almost bench press their own weight, lived longer than those who had high blood pressure and were weaklings. Now the swim study showed the swimmers had a higher BP than the runners, yet had lower mortality. Swimmers tend to be more muscular than runners. So there may be a connection involving the muscle structure in the two types of subjects studied. And this is a stretch, but aren't swimmers, as a group, better off financially than runners? This could involve better, earlier medical care - obviously resulting in better mortality. Another thought - swimming is like riding a bike or driving a car. It is a skill. Running is, well, running! Any 3 year old has mastered it. You have to strive, mentally, to improve your swimming stroke. Much less so with running. Maybe this has some unknown affect.

I think that the

I think that the specifications for "runner" should be stricter, as a competitive runner, even 10 minutes per mile would be consider average pace for a marathon for many people and slow at that. Anyone that considers a 10 minute mile "running" isn't trying hard enough.

These statistics dont mean

These statistics dont mean anything. For one I agree with the above post the number of Swimmers are way to few compared to the number of runners. Also how many of the deaths where due to natural causes and not car accadents or other means not realted to health. There are two many diffrent things that could cause death to compare two diffrent exersizes. Theres no way to tell who would live longer in a study like this. If you ask me it was a wast of time and effort.

The drastic difference in the

The drastic difference in the percentages shows that swimming is more beneficial. Where I live there are at least 30 people running or cycling as fast as a runner most of the time when I walk into Ohio State Universities gym (the big one of the 5 onsite). I've heard its the most fit campus in the U.S. though so that may be the reason. Come to think of it, races and trialithons get many participants and some "train" only a short while prior to the competiton so they may only be event-based runners. The cardio they get is not necessarily continous throught the year. I.e. 3 to 4 times a week every 52 weeks of every year through age 90 (the max age in the research). So let's say a person just finished a race and the next one is a whole year away, they celebrate on beer and pizza instead of their previous years of normal salad and grill stuff, over eat too many times in that 9 months and have a medical issue, who knows.

I find the ratio runners to

I find the ratio runners to total hard to believe. I swim and run and there is no way there are that many runners out there.

I think some people swim

I think some people swim because they enjoy it, maybe people want to make a good thing out of there life ??

Swimming is not just about getting golds or getting into the Olympics, it is about being free in the water and becoming a different person!!

that is what we all swim for not just the praise we get and awards !!

If people swim because the parents tell them to and they don't want to , then that is not fair!
swimming should be for the people who live a different world under the water.
And that's TRUE !!

Interesting article, I'm

Interesting article, I'm certainly not a statictician but not sure this study is powered correctly with such a low number of swimmers compared to the sedentary and runner groups. That being said, my hope is that those that a combination of swimming, cycling and running produces even better results!!

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