An extensive study, involving records from more than 116,000 people over the course of 30 years, has found that moderate amounts of physical activity for between 300 and 600 minutes could be the sweet spot when it comes to reducing mortality risk.
And if you make those workouts a little more intense, you can tap out at just 150 to 300 minutes per week, while being satisfied your body will likely reap the same rewards.
We're all going to die of course – it's just a question of when. But according to the new research, that broad 150-600 minute window brings the most benefits in terms of extending lifespans and reducing the risk of dying from causes other than old age.
The research looked at problems associated with the cardiovascular system in particular, and suggests that while over-exercising isn't a problem in terms of heart health, it also doesn't do much in terms of reducing the risk of an early death.
"The potential impact of physical activity on health is great, yet it remains unclear whether engaging in high levels of prolonged, vigorous or moderate intensity physical activity above the recommended levels provides any additional benefits or harmful effects on cardiovascular health," says nutritionist Dong Hoon Lee from Harvard University.
Right now, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends either 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (so walking or calisthenics for example), or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week (that's activities such as swimming, running, and cycling).
The participants in the study who followed those guidelines had a 20-21 percent (moderate activity) or a 19 percent (vigorous activity) lower risk of mortality from all causes. However, for those who went up to 600 minutes of moderate activity per week, the risk fell further – a total drop of 26-31 percent.
Among the other findings from the study, researchers noted that both moderate and vigorous activity in line with the guidelines lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease – 22-25 percent lower for moderate activity and 31 percent lower for vigorous activity. In some cases, pushing past the guidelines reduced the risk further.
"Our findings support the current national physical activity guidelines and further suggest that the maximum benefits may be achieved by performing medium to high levels of either moderate or vigorous activity or a combination," says Lee.
Some studies suggest there is a risk of overdoing it, with increased risks of artery hardening in old age among those who do at least three times as much exercise as recommended.
While this study found no health risks in excess activity, the researchers also didn't see additional benefits. In other words, lots of exercise wasn't seeming to cause any damage, but it might not be doing much good either – at least based on this particular study.
It's also worth noting that 93 percent of the study participants were white, so even with a large sample size like this, we need further research in order to get a better overall picture. For now, though, it seems like that 150-600 minute exercise schedule is well worth aiming for to maintain health and fitness.
"Our study provides evidence to guide individuals to choose the right amount and intensity of physical activity over their lifetime to maintain their overall health," says Lee.
The research has been published in Circulation.