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Longevity Briefs: How Much Exercise Is Optimal For Longevity?

Posted on 1 November 2022

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase your lifespan – arguably more important than a good diet, at least up to a point. However, we know that the benefits of exercise are subject to diminishing returns, and that there is such a thing as too much exercise when it comes to longevity. While athletes certainly live longer than the general population on average, there seems to be a point at which exercise can actually be detrimental to lifespan.

How does this relationship look for older individuals? We’ve previously discussed the immense value of exercise for older people, particularly strength training. What can studies tell us about how much exercise is optimal in this age group?

What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers looked at survey results from over 115 000 US adults aged 65 to 74. Participants self reported their levels of muscle strengthening activities and moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise. Participants were followed up for 7.9 years on average, and the researchers studied the relationship between levels of strength training, aerobic exercise and mortality after controlling for confounding factors such as age and health status.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Both aerobic exercise and strength training were associated with reduced mortality compared to being sedentary. Aerobic exercise continued to yield increasing returns with increasing time spent exercising. 10 to 149 minutes of aerobic exercise per week was associated with a 17% reduction in mortality compared to less than 10 minutes per week, while people in the category with the highest rates of aerobic exercise (over 300 minutes a week) saw a 32% reduction in mortality.

Strength training was measured in sessions per week. Strength training frequency was associated with increasing reductions in mortality up to 4-6 sessions per week, which was associated with a 21% reduction in mortality compared with 0-1 sessions per week. Having 7-28 sessions per week was only associated with a 2% reduction in mortality. Combining aerobic exercise and strength training was generally associated with increased benefits.

This table shows the relationships between weekly strength training episodes (far left column), minutes of aerobic exercise (second column from the left) and hazard ratio (right most column). The hazard ratio is the relative likelihood of death in comparison to the reference. A hazard ratio of 0.70 means that your probability of death is 70% that of the reference.
Association of Muscle-Strengthening and Aerobic Physical Activity With Mortality in US Adults Aged 65 Years or Older

This study adds to existing evidence that strength training and aerobic exercise, and preferably both, are still highly beneficial for older people. We’re still missing a lot of the nuances when it comes to the benefits of different types of strength training. This study suggested that 4-6 sessions of strength training per week was optimal, but we don’t know what kind of strength training they were doing. It may be that people who undertake more frequent strength training sessions (7-28) are more likely to make those sessions less intensive, for example. 7-28 is also a broad range compared with the other categories, so there may be room within this category for further reductions in mortality. However, perhaps the main focus here should be that 4-6 sessions should be easily achievable for the average person, and could yield significant improvements in health and lifespan, particularly if combined with a couple of hours of aerobic training.

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    Association of Muscle-Strengthening and Aerobic Physical Activity With Mortality in US Adults Aged 65 Years or Older:

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