In an analysis of 14 previous studies — from the US, UK, China and Denmark — the group of researchers from institutes in Australia, Thailand and Finland concluded that increased running participation "would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity."
The studies they used involved 232,149 participants over time periods ranging from 5.5 to 35 years.
Overall, people who ran any distance were associated with a 27% lower risk of death from all causes than those who did not, the meta-analysis shows. Running was also associated with a 30% and 23% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively.
Previous studies had yielded "inconsistent findings" about whether running could lower the risk of premature death, according to the researchers.
Lead researcher Å½eljko PedišiÄ‡, a professor at Victoria University in Melbourne, told CNN: "Our findings may motivate physically inactive individuals to take up running and those who already run to keep on doing it."
He added that doctors and other health promoters "may be encouraged by our findings to promote running as a part of 'lifestyle medicine.'"
In their paper, which will be published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers say health professionals are sometimes wary of promoting running "because vigorous exertion has been linked with sudden cardiac death."
PedišiÄ‡ and his team counter this by noting that "the mortality benefit of running outweighs the risk." However, they do say advice should be given on a case-by-case basis, as running might not be appropriate for everyone.
And although running has a clear overall health benefit, the researchers point out that higher "doses" of running may not necessarily reduce the risk of premature death further.