Too much exercise can shorten your lifespan; here’s the ideal amount for a long life

If you see people working out – at parks, gyms or on social media videos, you’ll find them always pushing themselves to work out with more intensity and for a longer duration.

Increasing one’s stamina and capacity is an important goal of working out to stay at top of fitness levels, however, can you cross the line to the point that it may not benefit you anymore?

The answer is yes. In fact, excessive exercise can even lead to joint and heart problems, and may increase your mortality risks.

Several of the following studies have attempted to find out this link between various exercise volumes and their impact on longevity.

Read on to also find out what is the optimal amount of exercise you should be sticking to.

More exercise, more benefits? Not true

A 2021 research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings examined the links between weekly exercise and mortality outcomes. Using long-term data from nearly 9,000 adults, the study found that higher volumes of weekly sports training – like cardio exercise, ball sports, weight-lifting, etc. – initially led to a big drop in mortality risk.

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However, those benefits began to regress for those who trained hard for more than 4.5 hours per week.

Even though their mortality risks were still much lower compared to those of non-exercisers, they were reaping lesser benefits from their intense workouts, compared to those who took a more measured approach to physical activity.

​Too much exercise can damage the heart

A research on rodents published this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Basic to Translational Science, noted that too much exercise can damage the heart.

The researchers found that intense exercise in rodents, which would be equivalent to running 60 minutes a day, five days a week, for 10–12 years for humans, was linked to several forms of arterial stiffening and thickening. This level of intense workout also promoted imbalances in the enzymes that control the contraction and relaxation of the heart.

Risk among runners

If you are a runner or aspiring to be one, this research is for you. The same research group in 2015 found that those who ran between 60 minutes and 2.4 hours per week had the best mortality outcomes. However, the benefits started to diminish among those who ran more.

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Back in 2015, the same research group found a similar U-shaped risk curve among runners. Their shocking finding is that the most strenuous runners, who ran at a pace of at least 7 miles-per-hour for four or more hours per week, had mortality rates on par with sedentary adults who didn’t run at all. “Long-term strenuous endurance exercise may induce pathological structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries,” that study team wrote.

​Switch to less intense workouts in your 40s

A lot of people take their health and fitness for granted in their youth. That is the safest time for intense workouts like heavy cardio training.

After 40 or 45 years of age, the heart is much less resilient and more prone to cardiac overuse injury, James O’Keefe, MD, cardiologist and medical director of the Duboc Cardio Health & Wellness Center at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, told Markham Heid.

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So as you grow older, instead of waking up to actively working out now, you need to focus more on less-strenuous forms of physical activity such as walking, yoga, easy cycling, gardening, etc.

Yes, your fitness capacity may decline with this switch, but you won’t be risking your mortality rate and will be more likely to gain in lifespan.

​Here’s the ideal amount of exercise

A new study from a team at Harvard Medical School found that most of the mortality benefits associated with exercise don’t require hours of daily training.

If you’re getting 75–150 minutes of vigorous exercise like running, swimming, cycling, etc., per week — which equates to roughly 15–30 minutes of vigorous exercise, five days a week, then you are doing enough to halve your risk for all-cause mortality, heart-related death, and death due to other causes.

If you prefer moderate exercise, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week will give you the same health benefits.

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