Does exercising less for improved health outcomes sound appealing? Many exercise recommendations, including the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, advise adults participate in at least 75 minutes per week high-intensity exercise, a difficult goal for many of us to reach. However a new study from Iowa State University comes to a different conclusion, and one that offers hope if you have difficulty maintaining a strenuous running regimen.
The research study, headed by Assistant Professor of Kinesiology D.C. Lee, was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and assessed data over a 15-year period, collected from over 55,000 adult participants age 18-100 years. The conclusion: gentle jogging for just 5-10 minutes a day can have a significant beneficial longevity effect, up to three years of added life span.
More surprising is the secondary conclusion of the research: running longer or harder may actually be counterproductive and eliminate all the longevity benefits of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise.
Run less to live longer?
Let's begin with the good. The key to best results: Persistence. People with at least six years active running under their belt enjoyed the most benefits and the greatest life span extension. It won't surprise anyone to learn improved heart and lung health are predicted to be at the root of the longevity benefits of a modest running program, however more research is being conducted to determine what exactly adds the extra years and how those benefits can be maximized.
The findings overturn years of exercise assumptions and so-called common sense: study participants who engaged in only light running, of less than an hour a week and at slow speeds, showed decreased mortality rates identical to those who ran more than three hours a week. How can more of a good thing – exercise – be bad?
It appears that running for more than one hour a week exposes us to dangers that can reduce the benefits of high-intensity exercise, and eventually overcome them altogether. Professor Lee notes, “With too much of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, there might be a side effect," including damage to bones and joints, and adverse effects on cardiac health. Those dangers accumulate to erode and eventually reverse all the benefits.
Longevity benefits are easily achievable
What does this mean for you? The main takeaway is an hour per week of light running is an extremely achievable fitness goal, with a big longevity payoff at the end. If you've been frustrated in the past with what seems like endless running, now you have a more sustainable alternative.
It also means if you are currently running more than what this new study recommends, you might want to consider whether the results are in line with your goals. If your goals are to improve cardiovascular health or athletic performance, you're probably fine. If longevity is your highest priority, it might be time to dial back your running.
Take a closer look at your priorities to find the exact high-intensity cardio balance that is right for you.