New study finds lowest risk of death was among adults who exercised 150-600 minutes/week

An analysis of more than 100,000 participants over a 30-year follow-up period found that adults who perform two to four times the currently recommended amount of moderate or vigorous physical activity per week have a significantly reduced risk of mortality, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship, peer-reviewed journal Circulation. The reduction was 21-23% for people who engaged in two to four times the recommended amount of vigorous physical activity, and 26-31% for people who engaged in two to four times the recommended amount of moderate physical activity each week.

It is well documented that regular physical activity is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. In 2018, the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommended that adults engage in at least 150-300 minutes/week of moderate physical activity or 75-150 minutes/week of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both intensities. The American Heart Association’s current recommendations, which are based on HHS’s Physical Activity Guidelines, are for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week or vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both.

“The potential impact of physical activity on health is great, yet it remains unclear whether engaging in high levels of prolonged, vigorous or moderate intensity physical activity above the recommended levels provides any additional benefits or harmful effects on cardiovascular health,” said Dong Hoon Lee, Sc.D., M.S., a research associate in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Our study leveraged repeated measures of self-reported physical activity over decades to examine the association between long-term physical activity during middle and late adulthood and mortality.”

Researchers analyzed mortality data and medical records for more than 100,000 adults gathered from two large prospective studies: the all-female Nurses’ Health Study and the all-male Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1988-2018. Participants whose data were examined were 63% female, and more than 96% were white adults. They had an average age of 66 years and an average body mass index (BMI) of 26 kg/m2 over the 30-year follow-up period.

Participants self-reported their leisure-time physical activity by completing a validated questionnaire for either the Nurses’ Health Study or Health Professionals Follow-Up Study every two years. The publicly available questionnaires, which were updated and expanded every two years, included questions about health information, physician-diagnosed illnesses, family medical histories and personal habits such as cigarette and alcohol consumption and frequency of exercise. Exercise data was reported as the average time spent per week on various physical activities over the past year. Moderate activity was defined as walking, lower-intensity exercise, weightlifting and calisthenics. Vigorous activity included jogging, running, swimming, bicycling and other aerobic exercises.

The analysis found that adults who performed double the currently recommended range of either moderate or vigorous physical activity each week had the lowest long-term risk of mortality.

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