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National Runners Health Study

Worth Your Time

Published November 9, 1998, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The National Runners Survey is part of a twenty-year national study on runners' health, from 1991 until at least 2010. To date, the study includes over 55,000 runners. Preliminary results published in prominent medical journals confirm the perceived links between running, diet, weight and coronary heart disease.

Dr. Paul Williams is the principal investigator on this study. He conducts his research at the Lawrence Berkley Laboratory in California. He relies on the World-Wide Web to reach runners and invite participation in the study.

Following a recent email from Williams, I enrolled in the study and took the survey online at http://www.runnersurvey.org

The survey started with an interactive analysis of my diet, physical activity and lifestyle choices. On the first page, I supplied my age, sex and the time it took me to run a mile. Next, I entered my height and weight. The survey computed my body mass index, and drew a chart indicating that I was healthy by established guidelines.

The next portion of the survey estimated my level of physical activity and computed an estimate of my daily energy expenditure. Some twenty questions attempted to account for every hour I spent sleeping, exercising, teaching or writing. According to the survey, I started to reap the benefits of vigorous physical activity whenever I burned at least 4,000 calories per week, the equivalent of running 30 miles per week.

The interactive analysis ended with a nutrition questionnaire. The survey asked for all the foods I consumed during the previous 24 hours, including beverages and nutritional supplements. At the end of the interactive analysis, I was invited to join the long-term study.

The stated goal of the National Health Study is to test scientifically whether diet and physical activity result in longer, healthier lives. I had to be at least 18 years old to join the study. By consenting to a lengthy contract, I agreed to be contacted periodically, and gave the researchers permission to access my eventual record in the National Death Index.

The study requested a significant amount of data to profile my lifestyle. For example, it asked for my weekly intake of aspirin and multivitamins, red and white meat, beer and wine, organic foods and bottled water. My weight at birth, and my average weight and body measurements for each of the past four decades showed a definite trend in my dimensions.

Social influences were examined through questions on my race, level of education and the existence of a twin sibling. Exposure to known carcinogens was also examined, including extended sun bathing and second-hand smoke, using snuff and chewing tobacco. Finally, I was asked to measure and enter my heart rate.

On the medical front, I was asked to list all the medical conditions and procedures that I have encountered, and all the drugs that I have taken. Upon enrollment in the survey, I also consented to have my physician send complete results of my recent physical examination to the researchers.

The final part of the survey dealt with identification, authentication and follow-up. I provided my name and address information, birth date and social security number. In addition, I provided the names and addresses of two people who are expected to know my whereabouts in ten years.

For authentication, the survey asked me to provide two sets of questions and answers that only I could answer. The researchers will ask these questions in the future when they contact me, to ensure that they have the right person.

Answering the questions in the survey required the better part of an hour. As a researcher, I felt it was time well spent. In a selfish way, it forced me to examine my environment in the hope of learning more about its interaction with my genetics.

I encourage fellow runners to take the time and participate in the study. While no study can explain all the mysteries of life, the National Runners' Health Study promises to confirm what runners already know, that running is good for the soul and the body.

Kamal Jabbour needs no scientific evidence of the decline in his running performance with age. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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