Research suggests there’s an ideal amount of physical activity that helps you live longer.
It’s well-known that consistent exercise is good for you, and a new study published in Circulation ― the American Heart Association’s scientific journal ― underscores this notion.
The study of 116,221 adults found that people who went above and beyond the minimum guidelines for moderate or vigorous physical activity had a lower risk of premature mortality.
The current physical activity guidelines for adults:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ current physical activity guidelines recommend that each week, adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity, 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity “or an equivalent combination of both,” the study notes.
This study defined moderate physical activity as walking, weightlifting and doing lower-intensity exercise. It categorized exercises like running, bicycling and swimming as vigorous physical activity.
Those who worked out two to four times beyond the minimum lived longer.
Study participants self-reported their leisure time physical activity (so not any physical activity at work or otherwise) via questionnaires over the course of 30 years.
From there, the study reported that those who worked out two to four times over the minimum amount of exercise had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, as well as any other cause.
Specifically, the study reported that those who worked out two to four times above the moderate physical activity recommendations (around 300 to 599 minutes per week) saw the most benefit. Participants had “26% to 31% lower all-cause mortality, 28% to 38% lower [cardiovascular] mortality, and 25% to 27% lower non-[cardiovascular]” mortality, according to the study.
Study participants who worked out two to four times above the vigorous physical activity recommendations (around 150 to 299 minutes per week) were found to have “21% to 23% lower all-cause mortality, 27% to 33% lower [cardiovascular] mortality, and 19% lower non-[cardiovascular] mortality,” the study reported.
These numbers are in comparison to those who reported zero (or almost zero) weekly physical activity.
While committing to weekly exercise is no doubt good for you, it should be noted that since study participants reported their own physical activity there is room for error.
Additionally, the results also only imply an association between more exercise and lower risk of premature death. However, tons of previous research has shown that exercise is extremely beneficial for our health — so it’s not exactly a surprise that the study found a correlation between physical activity and improved longevity.
It’s not too late to reap the benefits of exercise.
If the findings motivate you and you’re now interested in trying more intense bicycling or walking for the first time, give it a go.
Just make sure you start slow. According to Dr. Elizabeth C. Gardner, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at Yale Medicine, “whenever you are introducing a new activity into your workout regime … initially, start with 10 minutes of [the] activity, such as brisk walking, in the middle of an easier walk.”
This can help slowly introduce the new moderate or vigorous activity into your routine. From there, you can increase the duration or pace over the course of the coming weeks, she noted.
Intense workouts require proper preparation to make sure your body is ready. Gardner said you should make sure you’re hydrated, ate something to fuel you through the workout and did a dynamic warm-up, “which activates the muscles that you will be using in your chosen activity,” she said.
Specifically, Gardner recommended that during your warm-up, you replicate the movements of the exercise you’re about to do. For example, doing high-knees before a run or stretching out your arm before a round of tennis.
This is a “good way to make sure that your muscles and joints are ready for the workout,” she said.
Beyond cardio, prioritize strength training, too.
“It is also very important to complement moderate intensity exercise with strength workouts ― it is generally recommended that people strength train twice per week,” Gardner said.
This helps increase muscle mass, maintains bone strength and maintains balance, she added.
Plus, weightlifting was categorized as moderate physical activity in this study, so by doing strength workouts twice per week, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the minimum workout guidelines — or going above and beyond.
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