How Much Exercise A Week Is Best For Health Span & Life Span?
No surprise here: Exercise is phenomenally good for us. It improves our mood (hello, endorphins), boosts our brain function, keeps our bodies strong, and improves our overall quality and length of life1.
New research confirms its impact on longevity and outlines exactly how much movement we need for maximum life-lengthening benefits.
Maximizing the benefits of exercise as you age.
This study in the journal Circulation, funded by the American Heart Association, looked at the exercise habits of over 116,000 adults for over 30 years. Their workouts were split into two categories:
- Moderate physical activity (MPA): This refers to exercise like walking, biking, or gentle calisthenics. Think a gentle yoga flow, light jog, or a hot girl walk.
- Vigorous physical activity (VPA): This type of exercise more significantly increases heart rate, like jogging/running or more intense heart-pumping workouts. Think HIIT and tough cardio.
Researchers were interested to see how the current physical activity guidelines for Americans affected participants' mortality risk. These recommendations call for 150 to 300 minutes of MPA per week, 75 to 150 minutes of VPA per week, or some equivalent combination of them both.
They found that exercise is even more closely tied to longevity than you might think. When researchers looked at the hazard ratio—the risk of dying from a variety of common age-associated diseases—they found the current guidelines underestimate just how valuable additional exercise could be.
The maximum life-lengthening benefits of MPA and VPA topped out at about double those guidelines—meaning those who spent 300 to 600 minutes per week doing MPA and 150 to 300 minutes per week doing VPA, or an equivalent combination of both, actually were able to live the longest, healthiest lives.
Find your ideal VPA & MPA mix.
There are several lifestyle considerations to keep in mind when thinking about longevity. Our diet, sleep, social connections, stress levels, and physical activity all play a part in how long we live—and even more importantly, how long we stay feeling healthy.
The good news is that starting with healthy habits today will set us up for success with each passing year and decade.
And as far as exercise goes, it looks like the optimal amount of exercise for longevity is approaching 2.5 to five hours of vigorous activity every week or five to 10 hours of moderate exercise per week. For optimal fitness, an equivalent combination of both is a good balance.
This sounds like a lot, but it looks more doable in practice. Here's an example breakdown:
- Walking 45 minutes every day (all MPA)
- Walking 20 minutes every day (MPA) & doing two more rigorous 60-minute workout classes/week (VPA)
- Doing high-intensity dance cardio in your living room 5 times a week for 40 minutes (all VPA)
If you're already exercising plenty, consider this one more reason to stay motivated. If not, thinking about ways to sneak in just a bit more moderate activity daily can pay dividends. Just 45 minutes per day can deliver maximum longevity benefits!
And if you're in an exercise rut or feeling burnt out on one type of activity, consider this your permission slip to mix it up and try some new things. This primer on zone 2 cardio can help you get started.
Pair your workout with other longevity-boosting habits for maximum benefit. These include embracing friends and loved ones and building strong social networks, eating healthfully (blue zone diet, anyone?), and supplementing appropriately to fill in any gaps left in your diet. A high-quality probiotic can help support your gut health, for example, which researchers are finding is intricately linked to longevity and susceptibility to disease2. Here are the nine best probiotics you can take to support your microbiome and overall health right now.
An American Heart Association–sponsored study found that 2.5 to five hours of vigorous activity every week, or five to 10 hours of moderate exercise, helped individuals max out the longevity-promoting benefits of movement. A healthy mix of the two could help you stay on track to living your longest, fullest life. Who's up for a spin class?
Jenny is a San Francisco-based mbg health contributor, content designer, and climate & sustainability communications specialist. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. An avid open-water swimmer, Jenny has worked for healthy living and nutrition brands like Sun Basket, Gather Around Nutrition, and Territory Foods.