Although any amount of exercise offers health benefits, a new study suggests that rigorous physical activity may be key to boosting longevity.
Australian researchers found that middle-aged or older people who get at least some high-intensity exercise that makes them sweaty and winded may reduce their chances of dying early by up to 13 percent.
The researchers concluded that doctors' recommendations and public health guidelines should encourage participation in some vigorous types of exercise.
The study involved more than 204,000 people aged 45 or older who were followed for more than six years. Researchers compared those who engaged in only moderate activities -- like gentle swimming, social tennis or household chores -- with people who got some amount of vigorous activity -- such as jogging, aerobics or competitive tennis.
The participants were divided into three groups based on their levels of physical activity: those who didn't engage in any vigorous activity, those who said up to 30 percent of their exercise was vigorous and those who said more than 30 percent of their exercise was vigorous.
The death rate for those who said up to 30 percent of their physical activity was vigorous was 9 percent lower than those who reported no vigorous activity. The risk of death dropped 13 percent for those who said that more than 30 percent of their exercise was vigorous, the study authors reported.
"The benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active," study author Dr. Klaus Gebel, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention at James Cook University in Cairns, said in a university news release. "The results indicate that whether or not you are obese, and whether or not you have heart disease or diabetes, if you can manage some vigorous activity it could offer significant benefits for longevity." The findings were published online April 6 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Most current guidelines for physical activity advise adults to get 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise on a weekly basis. The idea is that two minutes of moderate activity is the same as one minute of vigorous activity.
"It might not be the simple two-for-one swap that is the basis of the current guidelines," said study co-author, Dr. Melody Ding, who's with the University of Sydney's School of Public Health. "Our research indicates that encouraging vigorous activities may help to avoid preventable deaths at an earlier age."
Gebel cautioned, however, that "for those with medical conditions, for older people in general and for those who have never done any vigorous activity or exercise before, it's always important to talk to a doctor first."