Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Working Up a Sweat Reduces Mortality

Physical activity that makes you puff and sweat reduces the likelihood of an early death, a large Australian study of middle-aged and older adults has found.

The researchers followed 204,542 people for more than 6 years, and compared those who engaged in only moderate activity (such as gentle swimming, social tennis or household chores) with those who included at least some vigorous activity (such as jogging, aerobics or competitive tennis).

They found that the risk of mortality for those who included some vigorous activity was 9–13% lower than those who only undertook moderate activity.

“The benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active,” said lead author Dr Klaus Gebel of James Cook University. “The results indicate that whether or not you are obese, and whether or not you have heart disease or diabetes, if you can manage some vigorous activity it could offer significant benefits for longevity.”

The current advice from the World Health Organization is for adults to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

The study, which has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine, classified participants into three groups. The mortality rate for those who reported up to 30% vigorous activity was 9% lower than those who reported no vigorous activity. For those whose exercise routine was vigorous for more than 30% of the time, the rate of mortality was reduced by 13%.

“Previous studies indicate that interval training, with short bursts of vigorous effort, is often manageable for older people, including those who are overweight or obese,” Gebel said. “Our research indicates that even small amounts of vigorous activity could help reduce your risk of early death.”