Does Exercise Need to be Vigorous?

I remember going to a local business a few years back to give a corporate health presentation.

And before the presentation I connected with someone I knew previously in the foyer. And catching up for a few minutes I excused myself in order to go get ready. The person I knew headed off in the opposite direction. I asked if they were going to attend. And here’s what they said…

‘No, I already do yoga regularly, so I’m good. But good luck with your talk’.

I guess this would be similar to declining a presentation by a financial planner because you already have a bank account. Sure bank accounts and investing are both in the financial sector but that’s about where the similarities end.

Maybe to the average person physical fitness is all the same. Whether you want to do yoga, Pilates or strength training, they are all equivalent and offer the same benefits.

New research says this isn’t so.

A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) looked a the effects of exercise on lowering disease and extending lifespan. On a side note I like how our friend Sam Spinelli uses the term ‘healthspan’ rather than ‘lifestyle’.

Anyways, the authors of the study reviewed over 400,000 people, evenly split as male and female with an average age of 42 over a period from 1997-2013. The participants would then self report the duration and intensity of their daily exercise. They wanted to see the difference of moderate and vigorous exercise on all cause mortality.

In other words, when you push hard with your exercise how does this compare to less intense exercise on death due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer. Exercise intensity can be defined as to how much energy it burns compared to sitting at rest and is known as metabolic equivalents or METs. Moderate physical activity is in the range of 3-6 METs whereas vigorous physical activity is greater than 6 METs.

In terms of how much exercise was involved the authors compared a couple of conditions. For the moderate intensity this was 150-299 minutes per week or about 22-44 minutes per day. And for the vigorous training this included 75-149 minutes per week or 11 to 22 minutes per day.

What they found was that vigorous exercise was more effective than moderate exercise at preventing early mortality or death from CVD or cancer.

Back to the conversation I had with the acquaintance at the top of this story. Yoga, pilates and other lower intensity forms of exercise can be great to include in a training program. But think of these as the sides to include with a great meal rather than the main course. Strength, power and speed have been known to be the obvious benefits of intense resistance training. Now we can add increased health span and lower risk of mortality to this list.

Wang Y, Nie J, Ferrari G, Rey-Lopez JP, Rezende LFM. Association of Physical Activity Intensity With Mortality: A National Cohort Study of 403 681 US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. Published online November 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.6331

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