Exercise can help you live longer - but you've got to sweat

Tai Chi . Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Those gentle, civilised exercises such as a bit of light swimming, social tennis or household chores just don’t do the trick.

To get the best benefit from exercise, you’ve got to puff and sweat, according to a large Australian study of middle-aged and older adults.

The researchers followed 204,542 people for more than six years and compared those who had only moderate activity with those who had some vigorous activity such as jogging, aerobics or competitive tennis.

They found that the risk of mortality for those who included some vigorous activity was 9% to 13% lower compared with those who only did moderate exercise.

“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,” said lead author Dr Klaus Gebel from James Cook University’s Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention.

“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.”

Co-author Dr Melody Ding from University of Sydney’s School of Public Health said the results indicated that vigorous activities should be more strongly encouraged in clinical and public health guidelines.

The current advice from the World Health Organization, and health authorities in the US, UK and Australia, is for adults to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

“The guidelines leave individuals to choose their level of exercise intensity, or a combination of levels, with two minutes of moderate exercise considered the equivalent of one minute of vigorous activity,” Dr Ding said.

“It might not be the simple two-for-one swap that is the basis of the current guideline. Our research indicates that encouraging vigorous activities may help to avoid preventable deaths at an earlier age.”

The researchers used the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up study, which has collected baseline data on more than 267,000 men and women aged 45 and older, in New South Wales.

The research, “Physical activity and all-cause mortality in middle-aged and older Australians”, is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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