By John Salak —
Maybe, just maybe, the adage: “relax, don’t sweat it” isn’t as profound as many would assume. Getting tense and twisted up in knots is never a good idea. Stress is a killer. But working up a good sweat may ward off a visit from Doctor Death.
A recent study of more than 100,000 people tracked over 30 years revealed that those who worked out—or performed the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity—two to four times a week reduced their risk of morality by more than 20 percent.
The only curious nugget in the results is that individuals who engaged in moderate physical activity fared better than those who worked harder. Those performing moderate physical activity reduced their mortality risk by 26 to 31 percent compared to a 21 to 23 percent reduction for those who worked out vigorously.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services defined exact weekly needs a few years back. This group advised adults to do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity.
“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 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 arrived at their conclusions after analyzing mortality data and medical records for more than 100,000 adults in two prospective studies conducted over 30 years. Those involved self-reported their activity levels. Moderate activity is walking, lower-intensity exercise, weightlifting and calisthenics. Vigorous activities included jogging, running, swimming, bicycling and other aerobic exercises.
The analysis found that adults who performed double the recommended range of either moderate or vigorous physical activity each week had the lowest long-term risk of mortality. In addition, there was no harmful cardiovascular health effects found among the adults who reported engaging in more than four times the recommended minimum activity levels.
The study’s discovery was that increased activity had no harmful effects on cardiovascular health flies in the face of previous studies that discovered long-term, high-intensity endurance exercises, such as marathons, triathlons and long-distance bicycle races, may increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular events, including myocardial fibrosis, coronary artery calcification, atrial fibrillation and sudden cardiac death.
“This finding may reduce the concerns around the potentially harmful effect of engaging in high levels of physical activity observed in several previous studies,” Lee noted.
While it may not hurt, engaging in long-term, high-intensity or moderate-intensity physical activity more than four times more than the recommended weekly minimum did not generate any additional reduction in the risk of death.
“Our study provides evidence to guide individuals to choose the right amount and intensity of physical activity over their lifetime to maintain their overall health,” Lee said. “Our findings support the current national physical activity guidelines and further suggest that the maximum benefits may be achieved by performing medium to high levels of either moderate or vigorous activity or a combination.”