Eat your vegetables, get a good night’s sleep, and exercise regularly. These are a few of the principles most of us are familiar with when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. But how much exercise should you really get, and what level of exercise is needed to make a difference? Is there such a thing as too much exercise?
Recently, two new studies, both published in JAMA Internal Medicine, answer common questions about the ideal frequency and intensity of exercise a person should get each week.
What are the current exercise guidelines?
Currently, health experts and the government recommend that a person should exercise moderately for 150 minutes per week to develop and maintain proper health and fitness.
What did the new studies find?
During the first study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, Harvard University and other institutions collected significant data on nearly 661,000 adults’ exercise habits. They divided the participants into various categories based on their personal exercise habits, ranging from adults who did not exercise at all to others who exercised more than 10 times the recommended amount, or around 25 hours per week. Researchers then compared 14 years’ worth of death records from each group, concluding that:
- Individuals who did not exercise at all had the highest risk of premature death.
- For those who did not meet exercise recommendations, but did some sort of exercise weekly: 20% reduction in premature death risk.
- For those who did the recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise: 31% reduction in premature death risk and increased longevity benefits.
- For those who tripled the recommended level of exercise by working out moderately—mostly walking—for 450 minutes per week, or slightly more than one hour per day: 39% reduction in premature death risk.
Adults who exercised nearly 10 times the recommended amount per day saw around the same reduction in premature death risk as adults who met the recommended guidelines.
While previous studies have suggested that adults who exercise too frequently have an increased probability of dying young, this study did not yield the same conclusion.
In the second study, researchers from Australia recorded data from 200,000 adults to determine how much time each participant spent exercising and how much of that exercise was considered vigorous, or intense. Similar to the first study, the researchers then compared individuals’ death statistics.
The study found that adults who met recommended exercise guidelines significantly reduced their risk of early death, which supports the first study’s findings. Researchers also found that people who exercised vigorously on occasion saw a small reduction in death risk.
- Individuals who spent up to 30% of their weekly exercise time in vigorous activities were 9% less likely to die early than those who exercised the same amount at a moderate level.
- Individuals who spent more than 30% of their exercise time doing vigorous exercise had about a 13% reduction in premature mortality.
The study did not find any jump in mortality risk for those individuals completing the most strenuous exercise.
What are the main takeaways?
The two new studies found that: to decrease early death risk and prolong life span, every person should attempt to exercise for the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes per week and have about a fifth of that weekly exercise be intense (30 minutes). Those individuals who wish to exercise vigorously for a longer period of time should feel free to do so without the fear of increasing mortality risk.
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