Inactivity is a big issue in the United States. We spend hours deskbound at work, watching Netflix, and sitting and relaxing with friends and family. It is easy to disregard—or “forget”—our doctors’ and other experts’ advice on how much to exercise.
But maybe that’s not you?
Maybe you aren’t as sedentary as the average American adult—in 2008, more than 50 percent failed to meet recommended activity levels.
Still, many regular exercisers and gym junkies lack a clear idea of which types of exercise and what amounts of activity are healthy or what is linked with overall increased longevity and reduced mortality, vis-á-vis complications of chronic illness, disease, cardiovascular issues, etc.
Many studies have linked specific health benefits with exercise. Regular doses of exercise can reduce risk of different types of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease.
The questions remains—How much is enough? When does exercise become unhealthy, if ever? And what kinds of exercise provide us with the most benefits when it comes to longevity and day-to-day health?
Let’s start with what kind and how much. Many researchers and cardiologists split exercise into two categories: moderate intensity and vigorous intensity.
Moderate intensity exercise is what’s easy to work in day-to-day. Think of your daily commute, active hobbies such as dancing, gardening, evening strolls, walking your dog. Vigorous intensity, on the other hand, means you’re breaking a serious sweat: biking, running, swimming, and competitive sports.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, you want 30 minutes of moderate intensity daily OR 75 minutes of vigorous intensity weekly.
In the same article, authors noted that exercising at moderate intensity for just 15 minutes daily boosted peoples’ life expectancies by three years, while reducing mortality (by any cause) across the board!
As for vigorous intensity, health benefits stopped increasing after exercisers hit 63 – 88 minutes per day; more than 100 minutes per day of any exercise did not seem to bring added health benefits.
Meanwhile, a weekly 150 minutes of physical activity (20 – 30 minutes being vigorous intensity), is the recommendation by Klaus Gebel, a researcher at James Cook University, in Cairns, Australia.
Results of Gebel’s own study also found that “frequent, strenuous exercise” does not contribute to earlier mortality after a certain point, though (consistent with the JAMA results) benefits do plateau after surpassing a certain range.