Imagine walking into your doctor’s office and asking for the exact dose of exercise you need to live 100 happy years. He scribbles down the hours per week (and intensity level) onto a prescription pad, and off you go to sign up for a gym membership. Until recently, this was just a dream scenario. For years, doctors, fitness experts, the US Government and the World Health Organization have debated the ideal amount of exercise a healthy person needs to extend their life expectancy. But the results from two new studies, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, could help make getting a fitness prescription a reality.

After studying 661,000 Americans’ exercise habits and 14 years worth of death records (see Sources below), one study revealed that people who didn’t exercise were at higher risk of premature death. No big surprise here, but this is where it gets interesting: Those that tripled the recommended amount of exercise (150 minutes per week) were at a lower risk of premature death, but those that exercised more than this didn’t show a significant lower risk. So, the sweet spot turned out to be about 450 minutes of moderate activity per week (mostly walking). But wait, the second study (see Sources below) addressed exercise intensity by analyzing 200,000 Australian adults. These results revealed that engaging in a minimal amount of vigorous activity (running instead of walking) reduces the risk of early mortality, and thus lessens the amount of minutes needed to hit that sweet spot. 

So, the combination of these two studies adds up to what exactly? According to The New York Times, the researchers’ takeaway was straightforward:

“Anyone who is physically capable of activity should try to “reach at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and have around 20 to 30 minutes of that be vigorous activity,” said Klaus Gebel, a senior research fellow at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, who led the second study.  

This recommended amount might be a pleasant surprise for some. Turns out, you don’t need to live at the gym to enjoy a long life (though the studies also showed excess activity can’t hurt).  But for those who aren’t reaching the recommended 150 minutes, what more motivation do you need? With proof that hours and minutes of routine activity add up to extra precious years of life, there are really no excuses left.

Sources:

  1. Leisure Time Physical Activity and Mortality: A Detailed Pooled Analysis of the Dose-Response Relationship.
  2. Effect of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity on All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged and Older Australians.
  3. The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life
  4. Is it Possible to Exercise Too Much?