Just a little exercise may be all you need

3-men-joggingYou’ve heard countless times about the health benefits of regular exercise. And not just a leisurely stroll around the block – some previous studies of walkers and cyclers have found an association between regular, strenuous exercise and long-term health and longevity. The more intense the exercise the better it is for you, these studies suggest.

But for those whose idea of fun doesn’t include pounding the pavement until they’re out of breath, here’s some good news. A recent study on runners by researchers in Denmark found that a slow to moderate pace is associated with the lowest risk of premature death.

The research, published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, compared the exercise habits of over 5,000 people with their longevity statistics. The researchers examined data for 1,098 adult men and women of varying ages who identified themselves as joggers. They also looked at data for 3,950 similarly-aged volunteers who indicated they did not engage in any vigorous exercise. All of the people were generally healthy without evidence at the time of disease or obesity. Over the following 12 years, 28 of the joggers and 128 of the non-joggers died. So the joggers tended to live longer than non-joggers.

When the researchers looked more closely, some surprises emerged. Contrary to earlier studies, the joggers who said they ran at a strenuous pace had about the same rate of mortality as non-joggers. The lowest mortality risk was for those who jogged at a slow or moderate pace. Furthermore, the ideal amount of jogging for extended lifespan was between 1 hour and 2.4 hours per week. Beyond these limits, the benefits of exercise appeared to fall off.

Said Peter Schnohr, one of the researchers, “The U-shaped association between jogging and mortality suggests there may be an upper limit for exercise dosing that is optimal for health benefits. If your goal is to decrease risk of death and improve life expectancy, jogging a few times a week at a moderate pace is a good strategy. Anything more is not just unnecessary, it may be harmful.”

Some researchers theorize that strenuous exercise puts excessive stress on the cardiovascular system. From the current study, jogging just three times per week, for 45 minutes each time at a slow to moderate pace, was associated with the lowest overall mortality risk. Other studies have found even brisk walking is very beneficial and more healthy than intense exercise.

Still others have found that just 5-10 minutes of slow running each day, at a pace under 6 miles per hour, is linked to reduced risk of heart disease and of death from all causes.

The Danish researchers caution that the sample size they used was small: there were only 80 strenuous exercisers in the group. Also, the joggers self-identified their pace as slow, moderate, or strenuous, without specifying exactly what each term meant.

But the lesson from this and other studies is that a little exercise can go a long way, and more isn’t necessarily better. The authors wrote, “if the goal is to decrease the risk of death and improve life expectancy, going for a leisurely jog a few times per week at a moderate pace is a good strategy.”

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