A New Study Suggests Doubling Your Exercise Time to Live Longer. But Do You Have to?


Malte Mueller / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that people who exercise more than the current U.S. physical activity guidelines may live longer.
  • The current guidelines recommend 150–300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75–150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity.
  • The study participants who exercised two to four times more than the recommended minimum had a 31% reduced risk of early death.

The current U.S. physical activity guidelines recommend 150–300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activities, or 75–150 minutes per week of vigorous activities, for substantial health benefits.

Adults who followed the minimum recommendations reduced their risk of early death by 21%, according to a new study published by the American Heart Association. But those who exercised two to four times above the minimum cut their risk of mortality by as much as 31%.

These findings are consistent with what researchers typically know about exercise, said Beth Lewis, PhD, a professor in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Minnesota, who’s not affiliated with the study.

Lewis explained that the first 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, gives people the most health benefits. There are added benefits if people exercise longer, but not a lot, she said.

Setting an expectation on exercise duration could discourage people who have busy schedules, said NiCole Keith, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at Indiana University.

Getting 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week can already improve health outcomes for adults, Keith added, and it’s attainable for most people.

Moderate vs. Vigorous Activities

Moderate activity should raise your heart rate zone to 55%–70% of your maximum heart rate, Lewis explained.

Maximum Heart Rate

You can calculate your maximum heart rate by deducting your age from 220. For example, if you’re 40 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 180. But to get an accurate maximum heart rate reading, you’d need to get a treadmill stress test, Lewis said.

“We define moderate intensity as something that gets your heart rate going, like a brisk walk when you’re running late for an appointment or trying to catch a bus,” Lewis said.

Other examples include water aerobics, playing softball, swimming leisurely, or ballroom dancing.

Vigorous-intensity activity, on the other hand, is exercise or movement that gets you to 70%-85% of your maximum heart rate. This can include running, swimming laps, hiking uphill, or playing an intense game of soccer.

“It’s doing something that’s going to get your heart rate much more elevated than a walk,” Lewis said.

Do You Have to Do Both Moderate and Vigorous Exercises?

While one form of exercise is not better than the other per se, both moderate and vigorous activities can benefit physical and mental health.

In general, Lewis said, exercise helps with depression, anxiety, and cognitive functioning. Vigorous exercises can better help with weight loss, but most people will benefit from doing moderate-intensity exercises.

Lewis said that it’s also important to keep strength training in mind. It doesn’t always have to be lifting heavy weights; it can include squats, push-ups, lunges, or burpees—just any resistance to your body weight.

The physical activity guidelines recommend muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week, which helps preserve or increase muscle mass, strength, and power.

Keith added that the most important part is to get people moving. “If you get up and walk around, and your walking around is only 30% of your maximum heart rate, that’s better than sitting and getting 2% of your maximal heart rate,” she said.

You can incorporate more movement by making simple changes such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator and parking your car further away from a store so you can walk a bit more.

“I don’t want people to give up and say, ‘I don’t have 300 minutes, that’s too much time,’” Keith said.

She emphasized that daily activities like childcare, household chores, and gardening all involve body movements and count as exercise minutes.

What This Means For You

Any form of physical activity can help reduce the risk of chronic disease, prevent depression and anxiety, and strengthen cognitive functioning. Experts say you shouldn’t be overly concerned with the type of exercise you’re doing, as long as you’re getting off the couch and moving.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd ed.

  2. Lee DH, Rezende L, Joh HK, et al. Long-term leisure-time physical activity intensity and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a prospective cohort of US adults. Circulation. 2022;46(7):523–534. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.121.058162

  3. Swift DL, Johannsen NM, Lavie CJ, Earnest CP, Church TS. The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;56(4):441-7. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.012

By Laura Hensley
Laura Hensley is an award-winning lifestyle journalist who has worked in some of the largest newsrooms in Canada.