It is hard to argue against the many health benefits of an active life (Blair, 1996; Hiemann et al. 2008; Mayo clinic 2017). However, it can be hard to wade through the vast quantities of information and opinion pieces to figure out how often you should be exercising.
It has generally been agreed upon that a minimum requirement of 5 days/week for 30 minutes of moderate intensity (50-70% of max heart rate) or 3 days/week for 20 minutes of vigorous intensity (70-80% of max heart rate) is required (Steele, 2017). In fact, there is a 30% reduction in mortality associated with achieving these guidelines (Loprinzi, 2015). And, at least up to a point, the more you exercise, the the better (40% reduction in mortality with 3-5x the recommended volume of physical activity) (Loprinzi, 2015).
However, the intensity of effort (i.e. relative challenge) of physical activity and exercise may be a more impactful moderator of risk reduction than exercise volume. Wisloff et al. (2006) showed that a single weekly bout of high intensity exercise reduced the risk of cardiovascular death in both men and women compared with no activity. They also found that there was no additional benefit from increasing the duration and number of exercise sessions per week.
So, where does this leave you? It’s simple…just get out and move. Even activity below the minimum requirements is associated with close to a 20% reduction in mortality (Loprinzi, 2015). If you’re strapped for time you can try doing more high intensity interval training type of exercise. No matter what you choose, all physical activity is associated with a better health profile and lifetime survival rate. Which is why you also don’t want to skip out on resistance training which has an impact on a range of health and morbidity related risk factors (Steele, 2017).
While science continues to hash out the nitty gritty details, it remains constant that physical activity is incredibly beneficial. Aim for the minimum guidelines and try mixing in resistance and high intensity interval training.
Blair, S. N., Kampert, J. B., Kohl, H. W., Barlow, C. E., Macera, C. A., Paffenbarger, R. S., & Gibbons, L. W. (1996). 2.) Influences of cardiorespiratory fitness and other precursors on cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in men and women. JAMA.
Cardiorespiratory fitness and All-cause mortality in men with emotional distress. (2017). Mayo clinic proceedings.
Hiemann, T., Nocon, M., Muller-Riemenschneider, F., Thalau, R., Roll, S., & Willich, S. N. (2008). Association of physical activity with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European journal of cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation.
Loprinzi, P. D. (2015). Dose-response association of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity with cardiovascular biomarkers and all-cause mortality: considerations by individual sports, exercise and recreational physical activities. Preventative medicine.
Steele. (2017). A higher effort-based paradigm in physical activity and exercise for public health: Making the case for a greater emphesis on resistance training. BMC Public health.
Wisloff, U. (2006). A single weekly bout of exercise may reduce cardiovascular mortality: how little pain for cadiac gain? European journal of cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation.