All of us know that exercise is good for us, but how much is the ideal amount? Is too much exercise harmful? Recently two studies were published, one from the University of Sydney (Australia) and the other from Harvard University (USA), that gives guidelines on the best “dose” of exercise.
The big question they wanted to answer: is there certain number of hours of aerobic activity per week that is best to prevent premature death; that is, to add years to our lives?
The quick answer is that the ideal amount is more than most of us probably practice now, but less than we might expect.
In the Harvard study, the researchers examined data from 6 previous large studies, which totaled over 661,000 men and women from the US and Europe. They compared how much a person exercised with their risk of death during the 14 years of the study. Here are the specific findings.
No surprise, these people had the highest risk of early death.
These people, who did not meet many health organizations’ recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, but were still doing something, had a 20% reduced risk of premature death.
People who meet the guidelines of 150 minutes per week reduced their risk of premature death by 31%.
These people completed about 450 minutes per week of moderate exercise per week, mostly by fast walking, and they reduced their risk of early death by 39%.
These people, who did up to 1500 minutes of exercise per week, did not get any additional longevity benefit compared to the more moderate exercisers, but at least they did not increase their chance of early death from so much exercise.
The Australian study examined health records of over 200,000 people, and found similar results to the Harvard study. However, the Australian study also looked to see if adding occasional periods of intense exercise—where a person breaks a sweat—would add any additional benefit. They found that it did, and if 30% of a person’s exercise per week was vigorous, the individual would gain about an extra 10% bonus in reduced risk of premature death.
The best compromise for many people might be 450 minutes of moderate exercise per week, with about 30% of that being exercise vigorous enough to break a sweat. 450 minutes sounds like a lot, but it works out to a little more than an hour per day, and much of that can be moderately fast walking. But even less than that helps. You decide what is best for you!
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