Amount and Intensity of Exercise Versus Longevity

I’m going to comment on what is really a popular topic in the current health/fitness mindset.  If I really want to live as long as my genetics and good fortune will allow me, how much exercise is enough, and of what type?

In the Well section of the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds recently wrote a great article on this very topic (  She summarized two recent studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine.  You can always read the article, and I recommend you do, but if I boil it down quickly, the message is this:  Exercise for about an hour, or a little more, each day, and make about 1/3 of it fairly vigorous, and you will get the maximum longevity benefits available from exercise (according to the studies). Keep in mind that the focus of these articles was mortality rates, and not necessarily quality of life, but the findings were indeed interesting.

Understandably, being sedentary is by far the worst thing we can do, and those individuals generally experience the earliest mortality.  But even doing a little exercise, such as only 20 minutes daily, or an average of 150 minutes per week, yields some increase in lifespan.  At 450 minutes per week, longevity peaked. Interestingly, exercising more than that level was not identified as giving increased benefits, nor were negative side effects (with respect to mortality) noted.

The other significant finding was that exercisers who did approximately one third of their exercise vigorously, such as high intensity interval training (popular buzzword of the day—ask me sometime and I can give you dozens of these terms going back decades!), experienced as much as a 13 percent reduction in “early mortality”.

So here is the gist of all that data, most people probably don’t exercise either enough, or intensely enough.  And then there are some that are pushing the upper limits (too many definitions to clarify), but they aren’t dying earlier from over-exercising (at least according to the data cited above).  The American population, and to some extent the World, needs to exercise more, and more vigorously, if they want to live as long as possible.  Now keep in mind, this is only looking at exercise, and not necessarily nutrition, stress management, sleep, happiness, etc., but activity is extremely important!

Now for the curveball.  This article and my topic so far only considered exercise and longevity.  But what about quality of life?  We have to be careful about making extrapolations here.  Can a person live a short but self-perceived high quality life? Sure!  And can a person also live a long and relatively unfulfilling existince?  Most certainly.

Lastly, reading this can make you think that you just can’t exercise too much.  That probably isn’t true.  Doing anything excessively or exclusively usually has negative effects.  What the aforementioned studies don’t emphasize is orthopedic health (the PT in me makes me say this).  You might get maximum systemic or lifespan benefits from exercising all day, but the wear and tear on your mechanical system, especially your joints (you get one dose of articular cartilage per lifetime, and it doesn’t regenerate), can be cumulative.  Potentially, quality of life might degrade if you wear out your body too fast.  We all wear out.  It’s inevitable.  But the challenge is to have your joints just outlive you, rather than the other way around.

I will end this blog with a hint of where the future is going for me and this business. Wake up, people!  Stop believing every fad you hear or read and use your Common Sense!  How about “Instinctive Living” as a mindset for how we go through this journey.  It’s good to be a consumer of all things wellness, but don’t lose the innate perspective that you naturally possess!

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