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How Do Exercise Volume and Intensity Affect Longevity? And Why on Earth Should You Care?

Ah, exercise - that thing we all know we should be doing, but often find ourselves avoiding in favour of a good Netflix binge. But, as it turns out, striking the right balance between the volume and intensity of our workouts is rather important for optimising our health and longevity. Who would've thought?

JRT in a gym

Now, one might assume that the more intense the workout, the better the results. After all, no pain, no gain, right? Well, not quite, dear reader. It appears that lower-intensity exercise might actually be the ticket to a longer life, especially for those who are no strangers to the gym. So, buckle up, as we dive into the thrilling world of exercise intensity and its impact on longevity, all the while providing you with some jolly good practical advice to help you make the most of your sweat sessions.

The Curious Connection Between Exercise Intensity and Longevity

Ah, the age-old question: to exercise moderately or vigorously? That is the conundrum. Current exercise guidelines, in their infinite wisdom, recommend a delightful mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity exercise for optimal health benefits. However, research on the impact of exercise intensity on longevity has been, shall we say, a bit sparse, with most studies focusing on single measurement time points. Not exactly a comprehensive approach, now is it?

According to the available data (limited as it may be), the benefits of vigorous-intensity exercise on mortality rates are most pronounced when comparing the couch potatoes among us to those engaging in 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Beyond this point, additional vigorous-intensity exercise doesn't seem to further reduce mortality rates. It's as if there's a point of diminishing returns. Shocking, really.

On the flip side, moderate-intensity exercise appears to offer marginal benefits for longevity more-or-less indefinitely. While the benefits start to plateau after about 150-300 minutes per week, there are still additional marginal benefits to be gained. It's important to note that this doesn't necessarily mean that moderate-intensity exercise is superior to vigorous-intensity exercise, nor does it mean that higher volumes of vigorous-intensity exercise aren't sometimes warranted. It's all rather nuanced, you see.

Intriguingly, for those who engage in little-to-no moderate-intensity exercise, the additive benefits of vigorous-intensity exercise are quite substantial, with mortality rates decreasing almost linearly. In contrast, for those already doing a copious amount of moderate-intensity exercise, adding more vigorous-intensity exercise has little impact on mortality. It seems there's a bit of a balancing act at play here.

Moreover, it's worth considering that there's more to life than mortality - shocking, I know - ( “I intend to live forever. So far, so good." — Steven Wright ). Supplementary analyses suggest that vigorous-intensity exercise is associated with larger risk reductions for specific cardiovascular diseases (coronary heart disease and stroke) than moderate-intensity exercise. So, it seems that a bit of huffing and puffing might do our hearts some good after all.

Key Takeaways (Or How to Make the Most of Your Limited Time on This Earth)

Time constraints:

Are you a busy bee with little time to spare? Fear not, for vigorous-intensity exercise is your knight in shining armour. A mere 2-3 hours per week of vigorous-intensity exercise is associated with larger reductions in mortality than the same amount of moderate-intensity exercise. Who knew?

Moderate exercise volume:

If you manage to clock in around 5 hours of exercise each week (kudos to you, by the way), how you allocate those precious hours doesn't really matter all that much. Five hours of vigorous-intensity exercise, moderate-intensity exercise, or a delightful mix of both will do wonders for promoting longevity.

High exercise volume:

For all you exercise enthusiasts trying to minimise your mortality risk (and who isn't?), it's probably wise to focus on doing more moderate-intensity exercise after completing 2-3 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

More exercise is generally better:

It may seem glaringly obvious, but we'll say it anyway: more exercise is generally a jolly good thing for overall health and longevity. Groundbreaking, we know.

Reducing cardiovascular disease risk:

For those looking to reduce their risk of specific cardiovascular diseases (because who wouldn't want to keep their ticker in tip-top shape?), it's probably worth making a point of doing at least 2-3 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

So, there you have it. By understanding the relationship between exercise volume, intensity, and longevity, you can better tailor your workouts to support a long, healthy life. And always remember to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional before making any drastic changes to your exercise routine. After all, we wouldn't want you to keel over from sheer exhaustion, now would we?

Yours truly


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