Life Wellbeing How much exercise is best? Double the recommended amount
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How much exercise is best? Double the recommended amount

exercise
Going for a long walk every day is better for your heart than running. Photo: Getty
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As we’ve repeatedly banged on about: the Department of Health and Aged Care recommends adults engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.

Or, for zippier folk, 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity is recommended.

Ever wonder what these recommendations buy you in terms of extra life?

You might assume that those doing more vigorous work come out ahead – given that running and swimming and team sports demand elevated fitness to begin with.

But new analysis from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that working out longer, but not harder, is more effective at reducing the risk of death.

This is encouraging news for people who might consider getting off the couch for a stroll through the neighbourhood a waste of time.

No more excuses

The researchers looked at the physical activity habits and medical records of more than 100,000 people over a 30-year period.

The data was sourced from two large prospective studies: the all-female Nurses’ Health Study and the all-male Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1988-2018.

They findings suggest:

  • People who engage in 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week have an observed 31 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD), a 15 per cent lower risk of non-CVD mortality (such as cancer), and an overall 19 per cent lower risk of death from all causes
  • But people who engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week have a 22-25 per cent lower risk of dying from CVD mortality, and a 19-20 per cent lower risk of non-CVD mortality. Overall, this delivers a 20-21 per cent lower risk of death from all causes, which is just ahead of those smug vigorous souls in their fancy workout clothes.

You would expect that people who do vigorous exercise would have better heart health, and the study shows that to be significantly the case.

But overall, plugging along pays a little better.

Does going longer make a difference?

Also, the Harvard crew found that doing more than the government recommendations was worth the extra effort.

The findings here suggest:

  • People who perform two to four times above the recommended amount of long-term vigorous physical activity have an observed 27-33 per cent lower risk of CVD death and 19 per cent lower non-CVD mortality. This bought them an overall 21-23 per cent lower risk of death from all causes
  • But get this: participants who perform two to four times above the recommended amount of moderate physical activity (five to 10 hours a week) have an observed 28-38 per cent lower risk of CVD mortality, and a 25-27 per cent lower risk of dying from causes other than heart disease. Overall, they enjoy a 26-31 per cent lower risk of mortality from all causes.

In this scenario, the moderate exercisers do significantly better for their hearts, and significantly better overall. This isn’t actually a great surprise.

As the authors note: “Previous studies have found evidence that long-term, high-intensity, endurance exercise, such as marathons, triathlons and long-distance bicycle races, may increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular events, including myocardial fibrosis, coronary artery calcification, atrial fibrillation and sudden cardiac death.”

Meanwhile, “no harmful cardiovascular health effects were found among the adults who reported engaging in more than four times the recommended minimum activity levels”.

That damn tortoise from the fables wins again.