How Much Exercise is Best for Longevity?

November 12, 2019

THE BENEFITS (AND RISKS) OF EXERCISE 

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

*FUN!

*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]

 

HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO WE NEED TO AVOID AN EARLY DEATH?

 

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.  

 

Image Source: http://healthymidlife.com/exercise-can-extend-our-lifespan.html 

 

TIP FOR OVER-ACHIEVERS: TRY TWO-A-DAYS WITH SHORTER SESSIONS

 

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]

 

SOURCES

 

1 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/ (2006; review of health benefits of exercise)

2 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2885312/ (2010; review of health benefits of activity & exercise in school aged youths)

3 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27017149 (2016; vigorously intense exercise increases risk of adverse CV events)

4 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538475/ (2012; potential adverse CV events from excessive endurance exercise)

5 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15534432 (2004; in general, benefits of exercise outweigh the risks)

6 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4451435/ (2015 review of data of more than 660,000 people to ascertain how exercise quantity reduces all cause mortality)

7 https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001335 (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 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2731178 (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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