It’s not exactly news that exercise is linked to health and longevity. And most of us are aware of the federal guidelines recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week.
But that ‘prescription’ doesn’t tell the whole story, leaving some of us with more questions than answers.
For instance, how much exercise do we need to live longer? Or what is the best exercise for longevity? And you may be wondering, ‘Will I get more longevity benefits if I exercise more than the federal guidelines?’
Fortunately, researchers are also keen on finding the answers to these questions.
Keep reading to see what the researchers discovered…
The recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is undoubtedly the gold standard. But can we get real for a moment? Our lives can get busy, making some fitness goals hard to maintain. What then?
One study proves that exercise is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. According to research, walking just 8,000 steps one to two times a week can improve your health.1
Especially heart health.
When it came to heart health those walking 8,000 steps just a couple of days a week reaped almost exactly the same benefits as those walking 8,000 steps three to seven days a week. Respectively, they had an 8.1 percent and an 8.4 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to those that didn’t walk at all.
“Participants who only walked 8,000 steps or more one or two days during the week also showed substantially lower all-cause cardiovascular mortality risk,” the study states.
That bears repeating: When it comes to heart health, you don’t have to exercise every day unless you want to, just walking one or two days a week makes a big difference. This is encouraging news for all those weekend warriors out there who work out only on the weekends. Simply put, any amount of physical activity is better than none.
Even a little movement matters
“The study’s findings suggest that for adults who face difficulties in exercising regularly, achieving the recommended daily steps only a couple of days a week may have meaningful health benefits,” the study authors conclude.
Sure, having a regular exercise routine is ideal, but experts say folks shouldn’t get discouraged if they can only manage several short bursts of activity spread out over the week.
This begs the question…
Will I live longer if I exercise more than the recommended amount?
In a word: Yes!
In one large study, researchers analyzed more than 116,000 adults who self-reported their leisure time activity over 30 years.2
According to study author Dong Hoon Lee, the highest reduction in early death was in participants who logged 150 to 300 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity or 300 to 600 minutes of moderate activity – or a mix of the two.
In other words, those who exceeded guidelines by two to four times (up to 300 minutes of vigorous or 600 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week) had even greater mortality benefits—up to 13 percent additional lower risk.
What constitutes “moderate activity”? The examples range from a very brisk walk to mowing the lawn. Vigorous activities include hiking, jogging, and playing soccer.
You may think, “There’s no way I can insert more activity into my life.” But it’s not as exhausting as it may sound. One study suggests that the best exercise programs include a healthy dose of planning and incentives to discourage missing more than one planned workout in a row.3
This leads us to another question …
Is group exercise better for health?
Grabbing a workout buddy is a great way to stay accountable to your exercise routine and enjoy cognitive benefits.
We recently reported on research from Japan suggesting that when you combine exercise with socializing, the health benefits are more significant than when exercising solo.4
People who exercised alone twice or more weekly decreased their risk of developing impaired thinking or learning skills by more than 15 percent. But those who exercised in a group doubled those benefits!
Lead study author Tomohiro Okura expands on the findings.
“It’s even more noteworthy that we found exercise’s benefits rise — 14.1 percentage points in our study — when performed with others and at least twice a week,” Prof. Okura states.
This study adds to a growing body of research exploring the significance of strong social ties to brain health. While chatting about your vacation with your walking buddy, you are also stimulating your attention span and strengthening neural networks.
Another study found that older adults are more likely to stick with an exercise program if they do it with peers their age.5
“All of this together points to the power of social connections,” said Dr. Mark Beauchamp, the study’s lead author. “If you set the environment up so participants feel a sense of connection or belonging with these other people, then they’re more likely to stick with it.”
Undoubtedly exercise can help increase life expectancy in a myriad of ways. But you may ask…
What is better for longevity, diet, or exercise?
Sorry to say, but you can’t exercise away a bad diet. Researchers report how you need both a healthy diet and regular exercise for the best health and longevity outcomes.
According to one study, even a 10K run can’t cancel out an unhealthy diet. Conversely, that daily kale smoothie doesn’t give you a free pass to Lazy Town either.6
In the most recent study, participants had a median age of 57 and were all healthy at the beginning of the study. Importantly, none had been diagnosed with conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or chronic pain.
During the decade-long study, 13,869 participants died — 2,650 from heart disease and 4,522 from adiposity-related cancers.
“Participants with the lowest mortality risk were the ones with high levels of physical activity and high-quality diet consistently across all three outcomes: deaths from all causes, deaths from cardiovascular disease, and deaths from cancer,” explains Dr. Melody Ding, the lead author.
She adds that exercise still protects against mortality even if you’re a junk food junkie. But it is much better to have both exercise and a good diet.
And we’d like to add that experts say if a person generally eats well, it’s okay to have a dessert occasionally. Just make sure that the overall context is healthy. Completely depriving yourself of favorites can set you up for failure.
On the flip side, it’s okay to take an exercise rest day from time to time. And above all, find a type of exercise that you enjoy.
What type of exercise is best for longevity?
There’s an easy answer to the question of, “What exercise is best for longevity?” It’s the type of exercise you will do!
Variety is the spice of life, and that goes double for exercise. Develop a smorgasbord of physical activities. Brisk walking is terrific, but don’t discount the cardiovascular benefits of dancing, biking, or swimming. Add strength training, yoga, Tai chi, and mobility exercises for the perfect fitness recipe.
Are you looking for more longevity-loving exercise tips?
Dr. Valter Longo is the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and the author of The Longevity Diet. He served up some advice in a recent interview.7 Dr. Longo says the most important thing regarding movement seems not to be exercise but routine physical activity.
Case in point is that the centenarians and people with record longevity don’t consciously exercise. Instead, they keep physically active, gardening, walking, dancing, and moving naturally throughout the day.
He urges us to walk everywhere possible and always take the stairs.
“If you live 30 minutes away from your work and every day you just do that, you’re already 80 percent of the way there,” says Dr. Longo. “And if you just go up the stairs 300 or 400 steps a day, that’s already very good.”
Fellow longevity expert and functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D., says weight training has been a game-changer for him.
“Personally, I don’t love going to the gym. I didn’t start doing weight training until I was sixty years old because I told myself biking, tennis, and yoga were good enough,” he says.
“Since starting strength training, my overall health, muscle mass, balance, agility, strength, and my back pain (after two surgeries) has dramatically improved.”
His routine includes strength training, aerobic conditioning, flexibility, and agility activities.
What if you’re new to exercise and don’t know where to start? Keep reading to learn…
How to start exercising after age 60
First, it’s a good idea to check-in with a trusted health professional to determine whether any medical problems will affect your exercise routine. You may need to modify for conditions like heart problems, arthritis, or diabetes. But don’t get discouraged, virtually everyone can do some form of beneficial exercise.
Next, monitor your progress. There are plenty of simple tools that can help. Most smartphones have built-in activity trackers. And there are countless wearable devices, as well. Or try jotting things down in a journal to keep track and show how far you’ve come as you progress.
It’s also a good idea to start slowly when beginning exercise. According to the National Institutes of Health, the key to being successful and safe when beginning an exercise routine is to build slowly from your current fitness level. Over-exercising can cause injury, which may lead to quitting. A steady rate of progress is the best approach.
Regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health, whatever your age. The benefits are endless, from managing body weight and improving bone health to supporting heart and cardiovascular health.
Importantly, exercise fosters positive mental health. Physical activity is shown to help fight depression and can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.8 So, lace up your athletic shoes and get moving!
The Aging Defeated Team