It is well known that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing several long-term (chronic) conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Studies show that physical activity also boosts self-esteem and mood, and can also help people to have better quality sleep. However, while getting enough exercise is important, the intensity of the exercise should also be considered.
A recent analysis published in Circulation investigated the link between long-term physical activity intensity and the risk of death.
The study found that adults who perform two to four times the currently recommended amount of moderate or vigorous physical activity per week had a significantly reduced risk of death.
The 2018 physical activity guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, and 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. However, a growing number of people are performing higher levels of more vigorous exercise to maintain health and improve fitness. For example, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has become increasingly popular.
However, there have concerns about the potentially harmful effects on the cardiovascular health of an excessive amount of vigorous physical activity. Although, there is limited and sometimes conflicting evidence to support this.
This new research, conducted by Lee et al., involved analyzing data from 2 large cohorts of participants: the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, collected from 1988-2018.
In these cohorts, participants completed questionnaires about their physical activity up to 15 times during the follow-up period. They were asked to report the average hours they spent on various activities, including walking, jogging, running, swimming, bicycling, aerobic exercise, playing squash/racketball or tennis, while also logging low intensity exercise and weightlifting.
Study author Dr. Dong Hoon Lee explained to Medical News Today the implications of this research for people who want to increase their own activity levels.
“Our study showed that many people can get significant health benefits by performing the recommended physical activity (150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity) so it is important to stay active. For those who are looking for the optimal health benefits from exercise, they can aim for higher levels of activity (2+ times the recommended level).”
– Dr. Dong Hoon Lee
Benefits of moderate and vigorous exercise
The analysis showed that the greatest benefit for reducing the risk of death was observed among people who reported around 150 to 300 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, 300 to 600 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
Prof. Becca Krukowski of the University of Virginia, who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today how this research has real-world implications for people looking to improve their own health.
“These results indicate that either moderate and vigorous physical activity can have positive benefits for longevity and health. These results are consistent with previous research indicating that 300 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity may be necessary for those who wish to maintain a weight loss,” said Prof. Krukowski.