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The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life

The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life


Exercise has had a Goldilocks problem, with experts debating just how much exercise is too little, too much or just the right amount to improve health and longevity. Two new, impressively large-scale studies provide some clarity, suggesting that the ideal dose of exercise for a long life is a bit more than many of us currently believe we should get, but less than many of us might expect. The studies also found that prolonged or intense exercise is unlikely to be harmful and could add years to people’s lives.

No one doubts, of course, that any amount of exercise is better than none. Like medicine, exercise is known to reduce risks for many diseases and premature death.

But unlike medicine, exercise does not come with dosing instructions. The current broad guidelines from governmental and health organizations call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to build and maintain health and fitness.

But whether that amount of exercise represents the least amount that someone should do — the minimum recommended dose — or the ideal amount has not been certain.

Scientists also have not known whether there is a safe upper limit on exercise, beyond which its effects become potentially dangerous; and whether some intensities of exercise are more effective than others at prolonging lives.

So the new studies, both of which were published last week in JAMA Internal Medicine, helpfully tackle those questions.

In the broader of the two studies, researchers with the National Cancer Institute, Harvard University and other institutions gathered and pooled data about people’s exercise habits from six large, ongoing health surveys, winding up with information about more than 661,000 adults, most of them middle-aged.

Using this data, the researchers stratified the adults by their weekly exercise time, from those who did not exercise at all to those who worked out for 10 times the current recommendations or more (meaning that they exercised moderately for 25 hours per week or more).

Then they compared 14 years’ worth of death records for the group.

They found that, unsurprisingly, the people who did not exercise at all were at the highest risk of early death.

But those who exercised a little, not meeting the recommendations but doing something, lowered their risk of premature death by 20 percent.

Those who met the guidelines precisely, completing 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, enjoyed greater longevity benefits and 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period compared with those who never exercised.

The sweet spot for exercise benefits, however, came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised.

At that point, the benefits plateaued, the researchers found, but they never significantly declined. Those few individuals engaging in 10 times or more the recommended exercise dose gained about the same reduction in mortality risk as people who simply met the guidelines. They did not gain significantly more health bang for all of those additional hours spent sweating. But they also did not increase their risk of dying young.

The other new study of exercise and mortality reached a somewhat similar conclusion about intensity. While a few recent studies have intimated that frequent, strenuous exercise might contribute to early mortality, the new study found the reverse.

For this study, Australian researchers closely examined health survey data for more than 200,000 Australian adults, determining how much time each person spent exercising and how much of that exercise qualified as vigorous, such as running instead of walking, or playing competitive singles tennis versus a sociable doubles game.

Then, as with the other study, they checked death statistics. And as in the other study, they found that meeting the exercise guidelines substantially reduced the risk of early death, even if someone’s exercise was moderate, such as walking.

But if someone engaged in even occasional vigorous exercise, he or she gained a small but not unimportant additional reduction in mortality. Those who spent up to 30 percent of their weekly exercise time in vigorous activities were 9 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who exercised for the same amount of time but always moderately, while those who spent more than 30 percent of their exercise time in strenuous activities gained an extra 13 percent reduction in early mortality, compared with people who never broke much of a sweat. The researchers did not note any increase in mortality, even among those few people completing the largest amounts of intense exercise.

Of course, these studies relied on people’s shaky recall of exercise habits and were not randomized experiments, so can’t prove that any exercise dose caused changes in mortality risk, only that exercise and death risks were associated.

Still, the associations were strong and consistent and the takeaway message seems straightforward, according to the researchers.

Anyone who is physically capable of activity should try to “reach at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and have around 20 to 30 minutes of that be vigorous activity,” says Klaus Gebel, a senior research fellow at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, who led the second study. And a larger dose, for those who are so inclined, does not seem to be unsafe, he said.

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Would you like to earn $60,000 or more during your lifetime without working another minute? Yes, it can be done and you will be healthier and have a better quality of life. By attaining normal weight and maintaining it, you can save money on food and illness care, AND you can be more productive and have more money in your pocket. Two of three people in the United States are overweight or obese. Diabetes is increasingly a disease of younger people because of obesity in childhood. A change of eating habits is not easy, but it is the first step in achieving normal weight and improving life-style.


We eat to satisfy hunger and function in daily activities. People usually don’t consider the cost-per-calorie when they eat, even if they have an idea of the calories they consume. Only the quantity of calories is considered here, not the type of calorie in terms of protein, fat or carbohydrates.

Fast food calories are easy to get and usually of modest cost. For instance a Big Mac packs a lot of calories in a sandwich. If a person eats at MacDonald’s once a week, ordering a Big Mac, fries, and a milk shake, the cost is about $8.50 (price varies a bit by location). The calorie count for this meal is 1350. If a person eats this meal once a week for a year, the calorie count is 70,200, and the cost is $440.00. If these calories are over the person’s minimum daily requirement (MDR), this equals a 20 lb. annual weight gain.

The above example of a meal at MacDonald’s can be reproduced in most fast food restaurants: Wendy’s, Hardy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. Go to the website “” to find the calories in servings at 275 chain restaurants coast to coast.


Each person’s daily calorie need varies greatly, depending on genetics, employment, physiologic and metabolic body functions – all have a part in describing one’s lifestyle. An important factor on life-style is how a person reacts to stress. In general, though, a lumberjack burns more calories than a person with a desk job. A good website to find your daily calorie needs is “”. It computes your lifestyle type and daily calorie needs.

New Year’s resolutions, crash diet regimens, and other fad solutions are not the best ways to lose weight and maintain normal weight. Diet regimens cost a lot, as do exercise machines and club memberships. While there are some advantages, they do not establish sensible eating habits.


Serving size is talked about a lot, and for good reason. A 100 calorie serving of meat is the size of a single deck or cards, much smaller than is served in most restaurant entrees. Potato chips and other chips meet the 100 calorie level when one consumes 10 – 13 chips. A one-quarter slice of a 12” pizza is 400 calories. A standard 12-oz. beer is 150 calories; an 8 oz. of wine, and 1 oz. of liquor are the same. A 12 oz. light beer is about 90 calories. A good social night out combines all the above and can total 2000 or more calories. Do not feel guilt over enjoying good food and drink, just consume smaller portions. Some people solve this by ordering one entrée, to be shared with a partner or friend. Even with an extra plate charge, the cost is less in both money and calories. Then there is always the take-home box, or else leaving food on the plate, if you can get over the guilt. Food is fun and food guilt will make it harder to achieve your ideal weight.


It has never been easier to eat at home. Today’s markets offer more products and fresh food and deli options than ever. Again, serving size is the clue to calorie intake. If cooking for one, make use of the freezer to divide one big recipe into separate meals. This is so much cheaper than succumbing to the temptation to stop at a fast food place for a quick calorie load. Train yourself to divide portions, no matter where the food originates. Celery sticks, almonds, cut-up veggies with a yogurt dip can slice your cravings in half. By the time you munch on these low-calorie chews, you will be able to resist the other menu temptations.


The guideposts to achieving normal weight and good eating:

  1. Eat to live, not live to eat
  2. Eat slowly—talk more. The food is not going to run away
  3. Use a smaller plate—let one-third of the plate show
  4. No second helpings
  5. The best exercise for losing weight is to push away from the table.


If you establish sound eating habits as shown above, you will save up to $4,400 in 10 years, or $17,600 in 40 years. Investing that $440 each year at 5% compound interest, you would have an extra $59,000 in 40 years. The improved quality of life you might have by a healthier lifestyle is incalculable. An excellent book to get you started on this path is “Eat, Move, Sleep” by Tom Rath.

Good food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It can be enjoyed more by estimating your caloric intake until you have established a true balance in you daily diet.

You will feel better, look better, be healthier, have more energy, and SAVE MONEY.

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