Those who exercise more than the minimum are likely to live longer

Overachieving Exercisers More Likely to Live Longer

Overachieving Exercisers More Likely to Live Longer

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Need some motivation to get you to workout today? Here's some: It turns out that people who seem to "live" at the gym may actually end up living longer.

New research by the American Heart Association found that people who exceed the World Health Organization's recommendation of 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise a week (or 75-150 minutes of intense exercise) are less likely to die prematurely than those who meet the minimum activity guidelines.

In fact, the study led by Harvard scientist Dong Hoon Lee found the most longevity benefits at about double the WHO recommended levels. So while walking 30 minutes a day can help you live longer, if you want even more benefits, it might be time to pick up the pace!

And if you've ever wondered whether that neighbor of yours who always seems to be jogging up and down the street is doing any damage to his health, you can stop worrying. Exercising up to four times more than the current guidelines minimum didn't cause any decline in longevity, the study found.

Does exercise make you live longer?

The longevity benefits of exercise—as well as its other benefits for mental and physical health—are well-known, which is why WHO recommends physical activity. But the recent AMA study shows more is better. It compared data from 116,221 adults in two large-scale studies for up to 30 years. During that time, 47,596 study participants died. Researchers analyzed the data and found those who met WHO guidelines for vigorous activity (75-150 min/week), compared with those who did not have vigorous-intensity activity, had significantly lower mortality risk:

  • 19% lower all-cause mortality
  • 31% lower cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality
  • 15% lower non-CVD mortality

Don't like vigorous exercise? Good news! Those who met WHO guidelines for moderate physical activity (150-300 min/week) had 19-25% lower risk of mortality (all-cause, CVD and non-CVD).

If that life expectancy still isn't good enough, you can do more. The study found that compared with those who simply met the minimum guidelines, those who exceeded guidelines by 2 to 4 times (up to 300 minutes of vigorous exercise or 600 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week) had even greater mortality benefits—up to 13% additional lower risk.

How much exercise do you need to boost your longevity?

As this new study shows, even just meeting the WHO minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or a moderate-to-vigorous combination) a week will help you live longer. And you can double the upper limit of the exercise guidelines for even more benefits.

But it is important to note that continuing to exercise more once you go beyond double the WHO recommendations, you're not further increasing your likelihood to live even longer than that. It might make you feel better to continue swimming laps or punching that bag in the gym, but the study found no additional longevity benefit. (That being said, if being a gym rat is your jam, you do you!)

What are other health benefits of regular exercise?

A better question might be, what aspect of health doesn't benefit from exercise? You might have heard "Movement is medicine" or "Motion is lotion." Both are true! Regular physical activity benefits your muscles, your mind and your mood. It helps you sleep better at night and stay focused and energized during the day. It improves flexibility, relieves stress and aids digestion. Regular activity also reduces your risk of heart disease and heart attack, helps fight off dementia, and lowers blood pressure.

Having more senior moments? Studies show aerobic activity improves cognitive performance in sedentary adults. Feeling down? Group exercise has been shown to improve mental health as well as physical health.

8 effective exercises to include in your routine

Want to live longer and lower your risk of mortality? Get started on optimal health with a variety of exercise movements and intensities. You could join a community sports league, like bowling or pickleball. Or pick several types of exercise from this list (a mix of cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance is best):

  1. Jogging or brisk walking
  2. Dancing (a great form of cardio!)
  3. Swimming (go long enough to build endurance; not just a dip in the pool)
  4. Strength training such as lifting weights or using exercise bands
  5. Body weight exercises like doing push ups
  6. Tai chi
  7. Yoga
  8. Flexibility or stretching exercises

Can exercise have any negative effects?

You might be looking for a reason to stay on the couch, but you won't find one here! Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body.

The only negative effects of exercise usually come from someone overexerting or overtraining, which can lead to injury, anxiety or depression. Remember, your body needs rest just as much as it needs activity.

When engaging in regular exercise, make sure you listen to your body:

  • Eat

    enough calories to cover your body's daily needs.
  • Get enough sleep

    at night and rest periods between exercise.
  • Do exercises

    that don't cause excessive strain. Don't try to push yourself past your limit.
  • Don't exercise

    in extreme heat or cold.
  • Listen

    to your body. You should feel tired but satisfied after you finish. If you are exhausted, or in a lot of pain, make sure you get enough rest to let your muscles recover.

8 exercise myths debunked

You might have heard some of these exercise myths, but we're here to set the record straight.

  1. No pain, no gain.

    Fact: Unless you are training for competition, overexertion—and the injuries that might come with it—should be avoided.
  2. Exercise on an empty stomach to lose more weight.

    Fact: Weight-loss studies have shown no difference between working out on an empty stomach vs. after eating, so do what you are comfortable with.
  3. Stretching prevents injury.

    Fact: Actually, stretching before workouts doesn't reduce overall injury rates. Light stretches might help you get in the mood, but save the deeper stretching for after your workout when your muscles are warmed up.
  4. Stay ahead of your thirst.

    Fact: Don't force liquids down. Instead, let your thirst be your guide.
  5. Weights are for bodybuilders.

    Fact: Resistance training is good for all body types and will help you maintain strong, healthy muscles with a consistent, moderate-intensity routine. 
  6. Sweating means you are working hard.

    Fact: Sweat is the body's mechanism for cooling, and it depends on many factors. Sweat doesn't mean you are working harder from one day to the next, or working harder than the person next to you.
  7. Get your heart rate up to lose weight.

    Fact: You don't have to have a high-intensity workout to burn calories or experience the longevity benefits of exercise. Moderate exercise and a healthy diet can just as easily help you reach your weight goals.
  8. You need special shoes.

    Fact: A study found most adults don't need special sneakers to perform well and avoid injury while working out. Normal sneakers worked just fine…as long as they fit and offer you support!



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.