Fitness in Medicine: January 2021

Vigorous Exercise Could Add Years to Your Life, Study Suggests

All activity is helpful, but throwing in some intense workouts could give your health an extra boost.

Elizabeth Millard

Dec. 7, 2020 (Runner’s World) — Does it really make a difference whether you include vigorous physical activity into an otherwise moderate workout mix? It does, if you want to live longer, according to a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers looked at a cohort study that included more than 403,000 adults from the National Health Interview Survey, which ran from 1997 to 2013, and they selected data on self-reported physical activity.

In general, those who had a higher proportion of vigorous physical activity to total amount of exercise showed a lower risk of early death from all causes. That means they were more likely to live longer than those who didn’t have more intense exercise in their routines. And when it comes to how much, 150 minutes of vigorous activity a week seemed to give the largest advantages in terms of health.

There are a couple caveats here to note, according to Carol Mack, D.P.T., C.S.C.S. One is the “self-reported” factor, which can often skew results to some degree since people tend to overestimate the intensity of their exercise efforts, she told Runner’s World. The participants here did not wear heart rate monitors or activity trackers, for example, so it’s unknown how tough their workouts actually were.

The other limitation is that “vigorous” was loosely defined. In the study, that was categorized as “at least 10 minutes that cause heavy sweating or large increases in breathing or heart rate.”

That said, it’s not a surprising result that getting sweaty is a life-extending practice, Mack said.

“In general, vigorous activity simply yields larger improvement than moderate activity in areas like cardiorespiratory fitness and functional capacity,” she said. “There have been other studies showing that this level of activity produces a greater improvement in oxygen consumption, blood pressure, and body composition.”

All of those advantages can lead to lower prevalence of chronic disease that might raise early mortality risk, she added.

Does that mean you need to go full-out all the time and ditch steady-state cardio workouts, like running? Not at all, Mack advised. But if all you do is moderate-level exercise, this study and others suggest that adding some vigorous activity in the mix could be beneficial.

“In the right doses, vigorous activity is a great thing,” she said. “It challenges the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems of the body to a greater extent than moderate activity.”

For instance, adding a couple HIIT sessions per week could be enough to prompt those extended benefits, and may even help with your running performance, too (i.e. strengthening the muscles needed to run faster and more powerfully).

“When done consistently, and dosed properly, this is a great thing for the long-term as the body learns to adapt to the higher stress placed on it,” Mack said.

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