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Apr 23, 2015

Is There an Exercise 'Sweet Spot' for Longer Life?

Two large-scale studies take a close look at meeting or exceeding current exercise guidelines, but one thing is clear: Any physical activity is far better than none.

Getting the right type and amount of exercise can help you live longer, according to studies recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The first study analyzed data from six cohorts maintained by the National Cancer Institute, following more than 661,000 adults for 14 years. The goal of the study was to determine the risks and benefits of exceeding current exercise recommendations. Although the 2008 physical activity guidelines recommend at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, they suggest that doing more than double this amount may have even greater health benefits. But it’s unclear just how much additional exercise boosts longevity and whether it’s associated with any health risks.

The good news is that getting 10 or more times the recommended level of exercise appears safe and does not increase risk of death. However, sticking to current guidelines is enough to help adults live significantly longer. In this study, researchers found that getting 1-2 times the recommended levels of exercise was associated with a 31% lower risk of death. Compared to individuals reporting no physical activity, even those getting less than recommended levels had 20% lower risk of death.

The second study published in JAMA Internal Medicine had similar findings, reporting up to a 47% lower risk of death associated with 1-2 times the weekly recommended levels of exercise. Findings also confirmed that getting less than recommended levels of exercise still reduced risk of death by 34% compared to no physical activity. This study followed 204,542 Australian adults for an average of six and a half years, tracking physical activity levels and health outcomes.

However, the Australian study found an important difference between the health benefits of moderate vs. vigorous physical activity. Among individuals who exercised regularly, those participating in some vigorous activity like running had lower mortality risk compared to those who did moderate exercise only.

In addition to confirming that exercise helps increase longevity, both studies highlight the fact that some exercise is always better than none when it comes to health. Although reaching or going beyond current exercise recommendations may be associated with the greatest health benefits, getting any amount of regular exercise helps reduce risk of death. Vigorous physical activity may give your health an added boost, but all types of physical activity can help us live longer, healthier lives.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • What are the benefits of physical activity?
  • Regular physical activity has a wealth of benefits, such as reducing risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, cancer and heart disease. Exercise can also increase energy, improve mood, and promote better sleep. Regular physical activity is a key component of a healthy lifestyle.

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