How Much Exercise is Best for Longevity?

November 12, 2019


Exercise, when performed smartly, carries with it several benefits, including…


*chronic pain reduction

*improved posture

*improved mobility

*improved strength

*improved balance

*improved cardiac & respiratory functioning

*reduced risk of cardiovascular disease & hypertension

*reduced risk of diabetes

*reduced risk of cancer

*increased amounts of lean muscle

*reduced body fat

*reduced risk of obesity

*improved appearance

*improved bone density

*reduced risk of osteoporosis   

*stress relief

*reduced risk of depression

*improved sex drive/libido

*social connection


*an excuse to get out in nature (which carries its own benefits- fresh air, sunshine, vitamin D, etc.)

*positive stimulation of various body systems (lymphatic, circulatory, digestive) [1-2]


Of course exercise can have adverse effects, especially when dangerous and/or inappropriate activities are routinely applied. Risks here include…   


*increased risk of injury

*trouble breathing (which can be dangerous for asthmatics & those with respiratory conditions)

*exacerbated joint or soft tissue pain (especially for arthritics and those recovering from injury)

*heat stroke/dehydration/electrolyte imbalance

*excess free radical production and/or metabolic by-products (which can damage cells and tissues over time)

*rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue)

*accelerated aging   

*positional vertigo

*cardiovascular risks (including heart attack or stroke) [3-4]



Despite these risks research shows that a certain amount of exercise is generally associated with a reduced risk for early death (i.e. decreased mortality rates). [5]




So how much exercise is ideal for reducing your chances of an early death?


A very large 2015 JAMA study that looked at data from more than 660,000 people found the following…


*Those who didn’t exercise had the highest risk of early death (no shocker there)

*Those who exercised around 150 minutes a week (equivalent to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) reduced their risk of early death by 20%

*Those who exercised 150-300 minutes a week (equivalent to 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week) reduced their mortality risk by 31%

*Those who exercised 300-450 minutes a week (equivalent to 60-90 minutes a day, 5 days a week) reduced their risk by 37%

*And finally, those exercise-lovers who exercised for 450-750 minutes a week (equivalent to 1.5-2.5 hours a day, 5 days a week) reduced their mortality risk by 39% (only slightly better than the 300-450 min/week group, a good example of the law of diminishing returns) [6]


The two big take-aways here?


First, even a modest exercise habit of 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week has a notable effect on reducing risk of early death.  


Second, the exercise “sweet spot” according to this research seems to be 300-450 minutes a week, which works out to 60-90 minutes a day, 5 days a week.


A 2012 study that looked at self-reported physical activity and BMI data from more than 650,000 adults ages 21-90 found that exercising 75-450 hours a week effectively increased life expectancy anywhere from 1.8 to 4.5 years. Longevity was further increased when a physical activity habit (in this study, 150-299 minutes a week, or 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week) was combined with maintaining a healthy weight (healthy weight here being determined by BMI, which has some well-known limitations as an accurate body composition metric). [7]


The bottom line? Appropriate exercise for a total of 60-90 minutes a day, 5 days a week will help you optimize your lifespan and avoid an early death.  


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If you REALLY want to optimize your health and fitness efforts, try splitting your daily workout time up into two sessions. In other words- try a “two-a-day.” While it’s an added logistical challenge to be sure, I’ve seen individuals get better results doing two exercise sessions a day (ex. a 30 minute workout in morning and a 30 minute workout in the late afternoon) versus one session a day (ex. a 60 minute workout in the evening).


Besides increasing exercise frequency (which has benefits for the musculoskeletal, respiratory, circulatory and lymphatic systems), the “two-a-day” habit also decreases exercise duration, which can help to reduce the body’s exposure to potentially harmful metabolic by-products that can come with moderate to high intensity, long-duration exercise.


And since the average American sits anywhere from 6.5-10 hours a day (depending on the research looked at), it probably doesn’t hurt to infuse that sedentary lifestyle with two intentional physical activity/exercise sessions instead of one. [8]




1 (2006; review of health benefits of exercise)

2 (2010; review of health benefits of activity & exercise in school aged youths)

3 (2016; vigorously intense exercise increases risk of adverse CV events)

4 (2012; potential adverse CV events from excessive endurance exercise)

5 (2004; in general, benefits of exercise outweigh the risks)

6 (2015 review of data of more than 660,000 people to ascertain how exercise quantity reduces all cause mortality)

7 (2012 review of data from >650k people found that exercise & maintaining a healthy body weight increased life expectancy after 40 by 1.8 to 7.2 years) 

8 (2019; reports of survey data from 2001-2016 finds American adults are sitting 6.5 hrs/day and children 8.2 hrs/day)


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