We all know that exercise is important for longevity. But how much exercise and what kinds of exercise are best? Scientists are researching for answers to these questions.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
The ACSM has recommendations for five aspects of physical fitness and exercise: aerobic, strength, stretching, weight-bearing exercise and balance. The latest recommendations were published in 2018 and you can read about them here. Recent research looked at two of the five recommendations:
- Aerobic activity: You should do a minimum of 150 minutes / week of aerobic exercise, increasing over time to 300 minutes / week.
- Strength training: You should do strength training two to three days / week, which should include exercises for all major muscle groups (shoulders, arms, chest, core, hips, and legs). 30 minutes / session is plenty.
Premature Deaths Due to Inadequate Physical Activity
A 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the Percentage of Deaths Associated With Inadequate Physical Activity in the United States looked at 20 years of data on about 70,000 persons to examine the relationship between meeting the ACSM’s recommendation of a minimum of 150 minutes / week of aerobic activity and mortality. The CDC study concluded for:
- Ages 25 to 39: the percentage of deaths due to not exercising wasn’t significant.
- Ages 40 to 69: 10% of the deaths were attributed to inadequate levels of physical activity.
- Ages 70 and above: 8% of the deaths were attributed to inadequate levels of exercise.
10,000 Steps Aren’t Magic
You probably know of the recommendation that a person should take at least 10,000 steps per day for good health. You can use a smart watch or other device to track how many steps you take a day. Some devices even use an algorithm to translate other activity, e.g., a bike ride, into an equivalent number of steps.
However, scientists have found that 10,000 steps aren’t necessary. A 2019 study Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women looked at 16,741 women with an average age of 72 and concluded, “Among older women, as few as approximately 4,400 steps/day was significantly related to lower mortality rates compared with approximately 2,700 steps/day. With more steps per day, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7,500 steps/day. Stepping intensity was not clearly related to lower mortality rates after accounting for total steps per day.”
7,000 to 8,000 Daily Steps
The results of another study on Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality were published in September 2021. Researchers looked at decades of records in a large on-going study on health and heart disease in 2,110 middle aged-men and women and found “a strong association with step counts and mortality. Those men and women accumulating at least 7,000 daily steps when they joined the study were about 50 percent less likely to have died since than those who took fewer than 7,000 steps, and the mortality risks continued to drop as people’s step totals rose, reaching as high as 70 percent less chance of early death among those taking more than 9,000 steps. But at 10,000 steps, the benefits leveled off. … People taking more than 10,000 steps per day, even plenty more, rarely outlived those taking at least 7,000.” (New York Times)
But we ride our bikes, not walk around all day. The following study examines the benefits of exercise more generally.
Weekly Leisure-time Sports Activity
A study in Denmark on the Association Between the Duration of Sports Activities and Mortality was published in August 2021. The study looked at the leisure-time sports activities of 8,697 healthy adults. The study examined how many minutes per week each person did any of the following: tennis, badminton, soccer, handball, cycling, swimming, jogging, calisthenics, health club activities, weightlifting, and other sports.
The study concluded, “We observed a U-shaped association between weekly duration of leisure sports activities and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, with lowest risk for those participating in 2.6 to 4.5 weekly hours, being consistent across subgroups. Participation in sport activities should be promoted, but the potential risk of very high weekly hours of sport participation should be considered for inclusion in guidelines and recommendations.” This is a little less than ACSM recommendation of 2.5 to 5 hours of aerobic exercise plus 1 to 1.5 hours of strength training per week. In the Danish study exercise greater than 4.5 hours per week increased the risk slightly but not significantly until exercise of 10 hours per week.
Aerobic Exercise or Strength Training?
Another study published in August 2021 examined the Differential Effects of Endurance, Interval, and Resistance Training. This study looked at the cellular level to determine whether the type and intensity of the exercise mattered. The study used a small sample of 124 middle-aged men and women who were healthy but did not exercise. One group continued their normal life style. Three times a week a second group either walked or jogged for 45 minutes or three times a week did a program of high intensity training: four minutes of strenuous exercise followed by four minutes of rest repeated four times. Three times a week a fourth group did 45 minutes of circuit strength training on eight machines.
The researchers tested each participant’s aerobic fitness at the beginning of the study and retested everyone’s aerobic fitness six months later. Everyone got fitter. However group two, which did either endurance or high intensity intervals, improved significantly more than the other groups. The researchers suspect the difference might be the intensity of exercise. The mean heart rate of the weight lifters was much lower than running so there wasn’t as much stress on the cells.
The researchers also said, “the findings do not indicate that weight training does not combat aging. Like the other workouts, it improved people’s fitness, which is one of the most important indicators of longevity.” (New York Times)
Can You Exercise Too Much?
The Danish study concluded there is a U-shaped relationship between exercise volume and mortality. People who exercised:
- Less than 2.6 hours per week had a higher rate of premature mortality;
- 2.6 to 4.5 hours had the lowest rate of premature mortality;
- More than 4.5 hours per week had a slightly higher risk of premature mortality;
- More than 10 hours a week had a significant higher risk of premature mortality.
Not all studies reach the same conclusion. I wrote this column about different studies: Can You Exercise Too Much? The general conclusion is higher volume and high intensity exercise may be too much. However, just riding a lot of miles doesn’t necessarily increase your risk of dying early. And even if riding as much as 10,000 miles a year carries increased health risks the enjoyment factor may outweighs the health risks.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes chapters on how to meet the ACSM’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing exercises, balance and flexibility. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100 mile rides. I include a plan to increase over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. You can easily modify the plans for different annual amounts of riding. I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. I combine the different kinds of training into programs that balance training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
Dave Minden says
Dr. Mirkin has commented on this study showing loss of benefits with greater than 10 hours per week exercise. I believe he has said the study did not filter out underlying health problems, and if you do, the effect of lowered longevity with more exercise goes away. So, get that full check up if you’re going to exercise intensely. Maybe Dr. Mirkin is reading this and will comment…