- Two major studies, involving at least 100,000 people each, say that exercise helps you live longer.
- The recent study published in the journal, Circulation found that if you go above the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week), you significantly reduce your risk of early mortality.
- The other new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that even if you only work out on two consecutive days (like on the weekend), you’re still likely to live longer.
An oft-repeated recommendation for activity comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which advises at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity weekly—or a mix of both. Previous research has highlighted the benefits to making this your minimum. And those advantages include lower risk of serious issues like type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
A recent study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, highlights the fact that these advantages won’t just help you live better. They’re likely to help you live longer, too. And if you go above the minimum amount, the benefits are even more amplified when it comes to longevity.
Researchers looked at more than 100,000 participants over a 30-year period, and found that those who did two to four times the recommended amount of physical activity had a significantly reduced risk of early mortality.
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Moderate activity was defined as walking, low-intensity exercise, and strength training, while vigorous activity included cycling, running, and swimming. It didn’t seem to matter how participants mixed higher-intensity aerobic exercise with more moderate options—the bigger factor was simply doing more activity.
Another notable finding is that even among those who quadrupled the recommended minimum activity levels, there was no evidence of harmful cardiovascular effects, according to lead author Dong Hoon Lee, Sc.D., research associate in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He told Bicycling this may reduce concerns around increasing physical activity to higher levels, but he added that more is not always better.
“Each individual has to choose the right amount and intensity for themselves,” he said. “Our findings suggest the most benefits occur past the minimum recommended amount.”
What if you don’t have time throughout the week to devote to exercise? You could still have better longevity, according to another new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers assessed about 350,000 U.S. adults in terms of the timing of their physical activity over a 16-year period and found that whether people worked out on two consecutive days per week—such as the weekend—or spaced out their workouts, the results were similar in terms of longevity.
While that’s good news for weekend warriors, there is a caveat not mentioned in that study: potential injury risk. Going from no exercise to 150 minutes over a two-day session could set you up for problems, according to Carol Mack, D.P.T., C.S.C.S, physical therapist at CLE Sports PT & Performance.
“The body will learn to adapt to higher stress placed on it, and that’s a great thing for long-term health and endurance, ” she said. “But that adaptation takes time, so keep that in mind when scheduling your weekly workouts.”
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food.