We all know exercise is an important aspect of maintaining our overall health throughout life. It helps reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, maintains blood pressure, keeps our bones and muscles strong, and supports our mental health (i). You’ve probably heard at some point in your life that there is a recommended amount of exercise you should aim to achieve each week in order to stay fit and healthy.
According to the Australian Government, every week adults aged 18-64 should execute:
- 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity – such as a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming
- 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball
- an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.
Those aged over 64 should aim to do:
- at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days.
There are also alternate guidelines for pregnant people and those with disabilities. This blog will be focusing on able-bodied adults aged 18-64. If you would like to read more about the recommended amount of exercise for all Australians, visit the Department of Health’s website: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians
It’s also recommended that you vary the types of training you do to best maintain your health. A combination of cardio (beneficial for cardiovascular health) and strength training (beneficial for musculoskeletal health) is highly encouraged.
All of this is very important to know when building your own fitness routine and is certainly a great guide to follow. But did you know that achieving more than the recommended weekly amount of exercise provides even more benefits?
How a little extra effort goes a long, long way
A recent study published in Circulation (an American Heart Association Journal) found that people who surpass the weekly recommended amount of exercise actually live longer. Yep, you read that right!
In this incredible study, researchers had 116,221 adults self-report their fitness activity over the span of 30 years. In that time, 47,596 participants passed away. The study found that the participants who exceeded the recommended weekly amount of exercise showed up to 13% lower mortality than those simply meeting it. These adults were achieving either 5 – 10 hours of moderate exercise, 2.5 – 5 hours of vigorous exercise, or an equivalent combination of both each and every week (ii). That is essentially double the recommended amount!
Now, that’s not to say that increasing the amount you exercise is guaranteed to make you live longer. Life is unpredictable and physical fitness isn’t the only factor determining how long you’ll live. It’s also not a bad thing by any means if you only meet the recommended amount; it’s recommended for a reason and also backed-up by the World Health Organisation. This study still supports the recommended amount of weekly exercise; however, it also shows that increasing that amount has exceptional benefits. So, with this newfound knowledge, why not improve our health and quality of life?
How to incorporate more exercise in your routine
If you’re like the average human and don’t live at (or for) the gym, the prospect of doubling the amount you exercise can be very daunting. But don’t worry! We’ve got your back here at Aleenta, and plenty of ideas to help you that go beyond “just take more classes.” We know that’s not an option for everyone, so here are some simpler ways to add those extra hours of activity to your week:
- Consider swapping out your mode of transport
Today cars have significantly increased the amount of time we spend sitting. If you have the option, try walking or riding a bike to your destination instead! This doesn’t even have to be an everyday thing: perhaps a few times a week you can leave the car at home when you pop down to the shops! Or, drive your car part of the way, and walk/bike the rest. Find what works for you!
- Take the stairs
Okay, hear us out because we know this one seems a little ridiculous. How is taking the stairs going to add an extra 5 hours of moderate exercise to my week?! Let’s say you are climbing 4 flights of stairs to your workplace or the parking garage. Some studies suggest a fit person should be able to walk up 4 flights in 1 minute (iii). Since everyone is different, let’s say on average it takes 2 minutes one way, for a total of 4 minutes a day (up and then back down). 4 minutes of stairs just 5 times a week is an additional 20 minutes of exercise! That is only taking into account the bare minimum of coming and going, and only during the work week. The extra time you could add from leaving for lunch each day or walking some stairs every day of the week can easily knock out one hour of additional exercise… especially if you have more than 4 flights to conquer!
- Avoid long periods of sitting or lying down
This one also comes recommended by Australia’s Department of Health. Being stagnant in a seated or lying position can actually offset the benefits of physical activity, so it is important to take breaks from your office desk or the couch here and there. At work, try walking during your lunch break, using a standing desk or simply getting up and doing some lunges or star jumps every hour or so. If you feel a little silly, or anyone in the office is staring, just remind yourself that these lunges are helping you outlive your judge-y coworkers! ;)
- Try incorporating exercise into family time
We know one of the biggest reasons holding us back from exercising more is our responsibilities, especially for those of us with a family to take care of as well as ourselves. When spending time with your kids on the weekend, see if you can go for a walk on the beach, to the park, or maybe even a family bike ride!
It’s certainly easier said than done, especially if you have kids glued to the TV, but the whole family will thank you for it (I know I do… thanks mum!). Our suggestion for this? According to Dana Santas, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and CNN contributor, dancing to an upbeat song is enough to add extra minutes to your exercise routine (iv). Pick some of you and your kids’ favourite songs, and have a dance party! Better still, if you have access to games like ‘Just Dance,’ the kids will feel like they get their TV time, you get to spend quality time with your little ones, AND knock out that extra exercise all at once.
If I do even more exercise, can I live forever?!
Okay, it’s obvious you can’t exercise your way to immortality… We just can’t resist a goofy headline! But on a serious note, it’s important to know that this study found even more exercise (as in 4 times the recommended amount) showed no additional benefits or changes, so there is a threshold. However, if you’re a fitness junky and 40 hours of exercise a week sounds like music to your ears, Dong Hoon Lee, one of the authors of the study, emphasised:
“We found no harmful association among individuals who reported (more than four times) the recommended minimum levels of long-term leisure-time moderate and vigorous physical activity."
So, whether you want to stick with the recommended amount, double it, or even quadruple it, know that all these options are still perfectly healthy. Balance is still the most important thing here, so don’t overexert yourself by adding too much too soon. Part of staying fit is protecting your mental health, and the last thing you want to do is burn out to the point where you no longer enjoy exercising at all. So, start with the little things and when some extra time opens up in your schedule, then consider adding some extra classes to your week, or a hike or two. Experiment, try some new ways of exercising and most importantly, have fun!
Written by Sascha Czuchwicki
Works Citedi) Department of Health and Aged Care. Physical activity and exercise guidelines for adults (18-64 years). 10 May 2021. 5 August 2022. <https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians/for-adults-18-to-64-years>.
ii) Lee, Dong Hoon and et al. "Long-Term Leisure-Time Physical Activity Intensity and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort of US Adults." Circulation (2022).
iii) Peteiro, Dr Jesús. "Prediction of cardiovascular, cancer and noncardiovascular noncancer death by exercise echocardiography." European Society of Cardiology (2018).
iv) Holcombe, Madeline. Exercise more than the recommended amounts for the longest life, study says. 26 July 2022. 5 August 2022. <https://edition.cnn.com/2022/07/26/health/exercise-long-life-study-wellness/index.html>.