Consistent physical activity is widely acknowledged as beneficial for health and well-being. However, determining the optimal duration and intensity of exercise necessary to decrease mortality risk has remained a topic of interest. A study recently published in the Circulation journal sheds light on this matter.
The study’s findings challenge the current 2018 physical activity guidelines, which suggest that adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both. Surprisingly, exceeding these recommendations appears to confer even greater benefits in terms of reducing mortality risk.
Moderate physical activity encompasses activities like walking and weightlifting, while vigorous exercise includes running, biking, and swimming. The study drew data from two large prospective U.S. cohorts, involving 116,221 adults who self-reported their leisure-time physical activity over three decades.
Participants who engaged in two to four times more than the recommended amount of vigorous physical activity saw a significant decrease in cardiovascular disease mortality risk. Similarly, those exceeding the moderate physical activity guidelines by the same margin, roughly 300 to 599 minutes weekly, experienced the most substantial benefits.
The study revealed that individuals who surpassed the recommended levels of moderate physical activity by two to four times had a notable reduction in all-cause mortality (26% to 31%), cardiovascular disease mortality (28% to 38%), and non-cardiovascular disease mortality (25% to 27%).
Likewise, adults who exceeded the recommended vigorous physical activity levels by two to four times (approximately 150 to 299 minutes per week) showed a decreased risk of all-cause mortality (21% to 23%), cardiovascular disease mortality (27% to 33%), and non-cardiovascular disease mortality (19%).
The study emphasizes the importance of combining moderate and vigorous physical activity for optimal results. Individuals who maintained adequate levels of both types of activity experienced significantly lower mortality risks. Furthermore, higher levels of vigorous activity were particularly beneficial for individuals with insufficient moderate activity levels.
However, for individuals already engaging in high levels of moderate physical activity (over 300 minutes weekly), additional vigorous activity didn’t yield further mortality reduction benefits.
Moreover, those who were inadequately active—engaging in less than 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly—could significantly reduce mortality risks by incorporating modest levels of either type of exercise.
A separate study published in JAMA Oncology suggests that even small amounts of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity, such as short bursts of fast walking or stair climbing, are associated with decreased cancer risk.
Contrary to common assumptions, age did not appear to influence the impact of exercise intensity on mortality reduction. Both younger individuals, who typically opt for vigorous activities, and older adults, who often prefer moderate exercise, experienced similar benefits from long-term physical activity.
Furthermore, the study found no evidence to suggest that high levels of long-term vigorous physical activity had adverse effects on cardiovascular health, contrary to previous concerns. However, further research is warranted to confirm these findings conclusively.