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How Much Exercise Do You Need to Stay Healthy?

August 11, 2015

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with exercise.

We love the way we look and feel after a brisk walk or hitting the gym, but hate getting up early or in the late evenings to do it. There’s also the question of how much time to put in—is 20-30 minutes of exercise enough or is more than an hour too much?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, adults should do two and a half hours of moderately intense aerobic activity every week (such as walking or swimming) and two or more days a week of muscle strengthening activities. As an alternative, the CDC also recommends 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week, like running or jogging, and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities.

The CDC gives people an either-or-option, but a recent study now says vigorous exercise is more beneficial if people want to lead longer, healthier lives. In the study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers tracked more than 204,000 people age 45 and older for more than six years. They placed participants into three groups: people with moderate activity levels, those who exercised vigorously up to 30 percent of the time and those who did so more than 30 percent of the time.

Researchers found that the two latter groups had noticeably reduced their mortality rate compared to people who exercised only moderately. People who exercised vigorously up to 30 percent of the time reduced their mortality rate by 9 percent, while those who did vigorous exercise more than 30 percent of the time had 13 percent reduction. Both men and women of all ages exhibited these results, and it didn’t matter how much total time they spent exercising, just the proportion of time they spent doing vigorous exercise.

Of course, depending on your physical abilities and doctor’s recommendations, you may not be able to run for five miles, box or play tennis for an hour. Every person—and everybody—is different and capable of doing different things. But this study shows that incorporating some vigorous activity into your exercise regimen could prolong your life. And there’s a long history of scientific evidence to prove it. Previous studies have shown that lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic disease and that regular exercise helps to manage the symptoms of chronic disease and improve your overall health, especially heart health, diabetes and weight.

You don’t have to run a marathon to get vigorous exercise. Incorporating high-intensity interval training with short breaks in between is a good way to stay active. For example, you could alternate between three minutes of walking at a fast pace or jogging on a treadmill and walking slowly for a minute to recover and then repeating the same routine. Even 20-30 minutes of this kind of exercise a few times a week could have significant health benefits.

If you’d like to get more active, talk to your doctor about what types of exercise you can safely do. If jogging or running puts too much stress on your knees, try high-impact aerobics in a pool or cycling on a stationary bike for at least 14 mph. You also could try something fun, like dancing. Either way, the most important thing with exercise is to be consistent. Doing so will help you stay healthy long term.

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