Longevity experts are clear that exercise is a key part of living a healthy, long life, but usually don’t say much beyond, “Exercise–do a lot of it.” Government guidelines suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week1. However, it was unclear what the basis for these numbers was from reading the studies. After researching the optimum consumption levels of ten different food types (whole grains, fruits, red meat, etc.), the government advises to do 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise feels kind of cavalier, like saying “eat food, especially planty things.”
Part of the challenge of determining the benefits of exercise is the many different exertion levels. Even within one sport, such as soccer, the effort levels vary significantly when playing an all-field position instead of the goalie.
Both moderate and vigorous exercise is aerobic exercise, in which lung capacity is key to overall performance. The threshold for aerobic exercise is when your breathing intensity increases–strenuous enough that you would have trouble singing but can still say short phrases. This is the kind of exercise you can continue for ten minutes or more because your body continuously converts the oxygen you breath and converts it into energy. An organelle inside the cell called mitochondria does this conversion. When the body can draw sufficient oxygen, the best way to increase energy is by increasing the number of mitochondria in the cells to process more oxygen more quickly. This would be like upgrading the motor from a four-cylinder engine to a 6 or 8 cylinder motor in a car. Regular exercise in this range can drive increased mitochondria to improve aerobic performance.
For many, the classic exercise is jogging or running. Correlational studies of people who jog or run show that the benefits are heavily front-loaded — jogging at least once a week for under half an hour seems to capture all of the longevity extending benefits of aerobic exercise2. Longer jogs or more frequent jogging, at least up to six hours a week, doesn’t appear to affect all-cause mortality either way, although there may be a benefit from faster jogging.
There can be other benefits from running, but for optimal longevity, run at least once a week for about half an hour to reduce all-cause mortality by about 30%.
A weekly jog isn’t everything, though. In the following posts, we’ll talk about high-intensity interval training!