Health / Policy / running

A Country Full of Runners

Picture taken from www.syracuse.comI recently read an article in Runner’s World magazine briefly describing the efforts of a business school group at University of North Carolina (UNC) to assess the physical, psychological and economic impacts of a scenario where EVERY eligible U.S. citizen takes up running. I was fascinated and looked up the original academic paper, and, having become even more enamored with the subject, couldn’t resist sharing it.

The paper is entitled: “What if Everybody Ran? An Investigation into the Potential Impact of a National Running Movement.” And, before I go further, let me disclose that the project was initiated by Mizuno (see cool graphic here), who approached the UNC Kenan-Flager Business School to explore the topic. It starts with the following premise: Assuming a U.S. population of 320 million, and that individuals over the age of 5 can run, and that 30 million Americans are “regular runners” currently, there are approximately 270 million Americans who could suddenly start running.


Based on empirical research quantitating the mental, economic, and physical benefits of running, authors calculate the following statistics if the whole country ran:

  • We could experience 37% more smiles, as running reduces anger rates by 83%. Moreover, since 56% of divorced couples say arguing was a primary cause for divorce, there could be ~20% fewer divorces annually and 29.3 million happier marriages.
  • In one year, Americans would spend 7 billion more hours outdoors, and potentially see 27 million more sunrises per week (assuming that 10% of exercisers would utilize the dawn hours).
  • Regular exercise can boost individual earning potential by 10%, since exercise increases productivity by an average 23% each day relative to a non-exercise day. So, national productivity lost from sick days could be reduced by 50% in a nation of runners, and the gross domestic product (GDP) could be increased by 25.3 billion dollars.
  • Moreover, since regular exercise improves sleep quality, a national running movement could “generate 32% better dreams and 23% less tossing and turning.”
  • The health benefits of a national adoption of regular running are innumerable: 200 million inches lost from collective U.S. wasitlines; a reduction in 1.9 billion pounds of weight in a year; 116,00 fewer hip replacements annually; 5 million fewer hospital visits each year; 48.1 million fewer cigarettes consumed each day; and the bottom line? Almost $150 billion savings in health care costs.
  • We’d live longer! Since running can increase life expectancy by about 6 years, there could be 1.62 billion more birthday cakes and 20 million more great-grandmothers living to see a new generation.
  • Many other aspects of our social lives would benefit. Our dogs would run with us, so there could be 63 million happier dogs, as well as 135 fewer hours spent weekly watching TV, and 14 billion more hours annually of time spent productively unplugged and offline.
  • And finally, who would also benefit? The charities hosting road races. There could be 135 million more road race entries, with an equal number of additional post-race beers gulped, bananas eaten, and bagels chowed. Sum total: $4 billion more to charitable organizations.

Now, a nation comprised of runners is not our present reality, and likely not our future vision…but it’s fun to crunch the numbers when we think big and dream fast.



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