For many years, The American Heart Association and organizations such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have published physical activity guidelines outlining the recommended amount of exercise required for adults. However, recently, the results of a 30-year longitudinal study were released, suggesting that while those physical activity guidelines are useful, increasing your weekly physical activity beyond the recommendations may provide extra, life-extending benefits.

In fact, doubling to quadrupling your minimum amount of weekly physical activity may substantially lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and other causes. While those who followed the minimum guidelines lowered their risk of dying from any cause by as much as 21 percent, adults who exercised two to four times the minimum could potentially lower their mortality risk by as much as 31 percent. Going above and beyond the recommended exercise minimums may improve overall health and lead to increased longevity. 

Early Guidelines

In 2008, the HHS published their first activity guidelines for Americans after examining science-based evidence available at the time. Ten years later, in 2018, they released updated guidelines for recommended daily/weekly exercise. The 2018 guidelines recommended 150 to 300 minutes/week of moderate physical activity (MPA) or 75 to150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity (VPA), along with twice weekly full body strength training workouts to lower all-cause mortality. However, last month, the results of a 30-year study indicated that exercise beyond these minimum recommendations may be beneficial.

About the Study

The study, Long-Term Leisure-Time Physical Activity Intensity and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort of US Adults, analyzed medical records and mortality data from more than 116,000 adults (average age 66 years old) over 30 years, and included self-reported measures of leisure time physical activity intensity and duration. The research showed that participants who performed double—or up to four times—the minimum recommended dose of moderate or vigorous physical activity lived longer. Their analysis suggests that 300-600 min/week of moderate physical activity or 150-300 min/week of vigorous exercise significantly reduces all-cause mortality risk. Results also showed that performing up to 4 times the recommended weekly exercise does not cause harm, but that the benefits actually stop after 600 minutes per week.

What is Moderate vs. Vigorous Exercise?

In its simplest form, exercise intensity refers to the rate of metabolic energy demand during exercise. For this study, vigorous exercise was defined as any activity that uses more than six METs of energy. Light-intensity exercises include walking slowly, fishing, and light housework. Moderate-intensity activities are those that get you moving fast enough or strenuously enough to burn off three to six times as much energy per minute as you do when you are sitting quietly, or exercises that clock in at 3 to 6 METs. This includes walking, lower-intensity exercise, weightlifting, calisthenics, heavy cleaning, or brisk walking. Vigorous activity burns more than 6 METs and includes running, swimming, bicycling fast, singles tennis, and other aerobic exercises.

Increase Your Activity and Extend Your Life

The findings of the study support the current national physical activity guidelines; however, they also indicate that increasing your weekly physical activity may provide extra, life-extending benefits. The data can be used as a general guide to choose the right amount and intensity of physical activity to maintain your overall health.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center


Dong Hoon Lee, Leandro F.M. Rezende, Hee-Kyung Joh, NaNa Keum, Gerson Ferrari, Juan Pablo Rey-Lopez, Eric B. Rimm, Fred K. Tabung and Edward L. Giovannucci. “Long-Term Leisure-Time Physical Activity Intensity and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort of US Adults.” Circulation (First published: July 25, 2022)

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