Did that just make you shudder? If there’s one sure-fire way to irritate a runner, it’s to refer to them as a jogger or to ask after their jogging. So averse are we to the j-word, you would think the poor unfortunate soul who uttered it had just spat on us or slapped us in the face. We tend to see it as an insult and are affronted at the suggestion that anyone could consider us as “joggers”.
But why? Maybe it’s the connotations of the word. Look up “jogging” in the dictionary and you will find a definition along the lines of to run at a leisurely, slow pace. SLOW! Well, all things are relative and what seems fast to me is no doubt slow to Mo Farah, but nobody wants to put in a huge effort and claim a new PB just for someone else to suggest that this was all done in a leisurely fashion. We might “jog” as part of our warm-up, but if effort level is the deciding factor, then the main event is most definitely running!
Maybe it’s the way the media use the term. Much like “youth”, the term “jogger” always seems to be used in the context of something negative. Mark Remy at Runner’s World has written on more than one occasion about The Curse of the Jogger and pointed out that it’s only ever “joggers” (not “runners”) who find bodies, collapse, get assaulted or in any way find themselves in the news following a less-than-pleasant occurrence. Even Hollywood stars are not immune to the curse as some have found to their cost!
To test this theory, I ran a Google news search on the word “runner”. Once I excluded any reference to “runners-up” in competitions or “runners” in the context of horse racing, I was left with the following headlines on the first page:
Bus driver’s inspiration is big belly marathon runner
Boston runners cope with record snowfall
The remarkable tale of Derek Rae, one-armed marathon runner
Runner Robert in London Marathon
Not bad at all. Positive stories of runners overcoming adversity to raise funds for charity, train in the face of tough conditions and generally better themselves. But what happened when I ran the same search using the term “jogger”? Here are the headlines from the first page of results:
Angry owl in Salem park attacks 4th jogger, takes his cap
Police appeal for St Buryan jogger
Sex attack alert: police hunting ‘iPod wearing jogger’ linked to sexual assaults on women
Gunman linked to jogger shooting
Woman jogger critically injured in accident
Jogger struck by car
Man indecently exposes himself to jogger
Nude jogger pleads guilty
Nothing cheerful in there: attacks, accidents and an angry owl. See? Joggers have a pretty tough time out there (or are up to no good). No wonder runners object to being called joggers!
And this past week the media outdid themselves in their negative approach to the term “jogger”, this time with the assertion, based on a Danish study, that anything faster than a 12 minute mile a couple of times a week is no good for us and running at an 8 minute mile or faster/running more frequently than three times a week will increase our chances of premature death and make us no better off than a sedentary person.
Eh? So Olympic standard distance runners may as well chuck it all in and become couch potatoes? Surely that can’t be true? I find it very hard to believe that putting in the hours to train for a decent marathon finish time brings no greater benefit in terms of life expectancy than sitting on the sofa stuffing my face with crisps and chocolate. Something doesn’t seem right here. Given that we evolved to outrun our prey as hunter-gatherers, how can the same activity that ensured our survival now be one that will cut our lives short?
True to form, the media reported (using the terminology of the study in question) with references to jogging (and equally true to form, the running community collectively responded by saying, “thank goodness I’m a runner and not a jogger!”):
The Daily Mail – How too much jogging is as bad as none at all (with the bizarre sub-heading Stop that binge jogging! Binge jogging? Exercise isn’t an eating disorder!)
BBC – Too much jogging ‘as bad as no exercise at all’ (later amended to Training very hard ‘as bad as no exercise at all’)
The Telegraph – Fast running is as deadly as sitting on the couch (ok, so that one said “running” rather than “jogging”, but it’s a pretty sensationalised headline to suggest that running fast is “deadly”!)
So what does this mean? Should we all be hanging up our trainers and heading to the sofa to join the “we-told-you-so” brigade who have been insisting for years that running is no good for us/will destroy our knees? Thankfully not. Although at first glance the results of this study make for worrying reading, a bit of drilling down into the numbers leads to some interesting observations.
The basics are that the study followed 1098 “joggers” and 413 “non-jogging” sedentary adults over a period of 12 years. The “joggers” recorded the number of times per week they ran and self-reported whether their pace was slow, moderate or fast. This information was used to further categorise the “joggers” into “light”, “moderate” or “vigorous” joggers. By the end of the 12 year period, 128 of the “sedentary” group had died (31%) and 28 of the “joggers” (2.6%).
Now I’m not the greatest mathematician in the world, indeed English teachers tend not to be noted for their numerical skills, but even I have to quibble with some of these numbers. For a start, a greater percentage of the sedentary people died, an observation which seems to be in line with recent reports that lack of physical activity is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in the UK, costing the country £7.4 billion per year, and is on track to be a bigger public health issue than “smokediabesity”. Next, how can I put any trust in a study with such vastly different numbers in the groups (especially when the “joggers” are further sub-divided into groups based on their frequency/pace habits) and where there are other inconsistencies such as gender imbalances, age differences, other lifestyle differences and the fact that “joggers” were self-reporting rather than using any scientific measure to determine relative exertion? It isn’t even clear what the CAUSE of death was in those who had died, so how can we be sure that “jogging” played any part in it? Even the author of the editorial which accompanied the study ( D.C. Lee, a known supporter of the “less is more” philosophy) pointed out that further data was needed. Lee’s own previous study had found a lower risk of death in “joggers” with the highest running time and frequency compared with non-runners, indeed he had concluded that death from all causes was lower in runners compared with non-runners (note the use of the term “runner” in his study). Quite the opposite to the conclusions of this new study.
However the biggest limitation in this study, as identified by sources such as Runner’s World and NHS Choices, is in the size of the groups studied, particularly those classified as “strenuous joggers”. Some interpretations of the findings suggested that the fastest runners were nine times more likely to die prematurely within the 12 year period than those running more slowly, yet the numbers in the most active groups were relatively small. Of the 1098 “joggers” involved, only 36 were ultimately classified as “strenuous joggers” and of that 36, just 2 died. That’s right, 2. The claim that strenuous jogging is just as bad as a sedentary life is based on the fast that 2 people died in more than a decade. How can that be statistically significant? How can we say with any confidence that there is no difference between those in the most active categories and those who take no exercise at all? If 31% of the sedentary group died compared to 5% of the “strenuous joggers”, I think I’ll take my chances. Furthermore, as previously noted, the cause of death is not stated. While the study suggests that long-term strenuous activity may have an adverse effect on the heart, we don’t know for sure that this was true in these cases.
Of course, there has to be a point at which we can run “too much”, after all too much of anything is a bad thing, but right now there is nothing to definitively state what “too much” is. Of far greater concern is the number of people in the UK who are failing to meet the recommended levels of physical activity and the fact that obesity is on the rise, with the UK topping the table with regard to obesity levels in western Europe (1 in 4 adults are classed as obese, a figure which has trebled in the last 30 years, and it is estimated that by 2050 more than half the population will be obese). Hardly surprising then that as far as the NHS is concerned, this latest study into the effects of “jogging” does not contradict these physical activity guidelines. Clearly it’s far more important to get people off the sofa and more active, rather than drive more people to a sedentary lifestyle due to sensationalised headlines about “jogging” and life expectancy.
As with any exercise regime, it remains important to build up gradually, avoid pushing beyond our limits and consult a doctor with any health concerns, but I for one won’t be letting this study affect my attitude to exercise and will continue running (not jogging!) exactly as I am now.
What are your thoughts on the latest study?
Do you object to being called a “jogger”