I am one of those people who is a runner. Running has been an important part of my life. I am not a fanatic, and keep running in the context of the rest of my life, but I one of those people who runs regularly no matter where I am or what the weather is, and feels uneasy when I am not able to do so.
Running is connected to major parts of my life. One is my devotion to personal health. Running keeps my heart strong, my weight under control, and my appetite in check. I can't claim that running will make me immortal, and as a physician I know that sometimes people get illnesses that have nothing to do with their personal health habits.
Do I run to extend to my life? I believe that running will probably extend my life, but I cannot be sure. And even if it did not, I would still run. Along with healthy eating, running makes me feel good today. Regular exercise and healthy eating give me more energy in my daily function, here and now.
There is some growing scientific evidence as to what is the proper amount of running. A recent paper by O'Keefe and Lavie, summarizing research they and others have done, was published Online First in the journal Heart [O'Keefe, J. and C. Lavie (2012). Run for your life ... at a comfortable speed and not too far. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2012-302886]. The evidence seems to show a U-shaped phenomenon, where all-cause mortality is lowest at a running distance of 10-20 miles per week. Mortality goes up both for those who do not exercise as well as those who do so excessively. I am pleased to fall into the category of distance with the lowest mortality, but again I do not run primarily to extend my life.
Does running help my personal discipline? Perhaps not as much now as earlier in my life, but there is no question that my breaking out from being an underachiever in my early part of high school was due in part to the discipline I developed from running. That discipline certainly played a role in my future career and other life accomplishments.
Another aspect to running I enjoy is its "portability." That is, one can run anywhere. As someone who travels quite a bit, I enjoy being able to run. In fact, one of the enjoyments is getting to see parts of places I travel to around the world that I might not ordinarily see if I were just attending conferences or visiting the tourist sites. I have run on six continents (one of these days will do Antarctica!) and in countries as diverse as Cuba, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Slovenia, Egypt, and Brazil.
An additional fun aspect to my running in recent years has been my acquisition of a Garmin global positioning system (GPS) watch, which enables me to track my distance and speed as well as plot my route after a run (or bike ride) on a Google or Bing map. I do not track all of my runs, but I enjoy being able to see where I have run, especially when traveling in distant places. These include Buenos Aires, Argentina; Singapore; San Francisco; Washington, DC; my old high school (New Trier West) area; Honolulu; Oaxaca, Mexico; Bangkok, Thailand; Gabarone, Botswana; and Cape Town, South Africa (among others!).
Of course, the GPS watch is the only technology I use while running, which gets to another advantage of my running time. This is the ability to disconnect from all my other devices - computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. - and have some time for solitary thinking. Sometimes I come up with my best ideas for research, teaching, or even things unrelated to work while running (including many of the thoughts in this blog entry).
A common adage among sports medicine physicians is that runners don't know when to stop. I do usually stop when I get sick (e.g., a cold or the flu) or injured. In fact, my running has been somewhat impacted over the last couple years by some knee problems. Fortunately, the pain is not exacerbated by running (in fact, running and movement tend to make it feel better), but it has led me to reduce my mileage somewhat. I no longer run races, though occasionally like to participate for the thrill of doing so.
I will continue to run for as long as I can in my life. I believe it is contributing to my health and well-being, not only in the future but most importantly in the present.