A study published in Circulation journal last month looked at the behavior of over 116,000 people spanning 30 years and found that exercising for the minimum physical activity guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS)—150–300 minutes of moderate or 75–150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week—lowers your risk of all-cause mortality by 21 percent.
Furthermore, the study found that going above and beyond these minimum guidelines lowered your risk of all-cause mortality even more. People doing four times the minimum amount of moderate activity—the equivalent of 90 minutes per day—reduced their risk of all-cause mortality be an additional 13 percent, or a total of 34 percent. And they are the ones who are reaping the most benefit from exercise in this regard.
“It reinforces something that we’ve known for decades,” says Catherine Sarkisian, MD, a doctor of geriatric medicine at UCLA Health. Exercise is associated with lower mortality because it prevents many of the conditions that cause or are associated with early death, from heart disease to hypertension to depression. “If [exercise] was a pill, it would be the most popular pill in the world, because it has such broad effects across so many different conditions,” Dr. Sarkisian says.
The findings of the study are a “very large effect,” according to Dr. Sarkisian, but she also doesn’t think that they mean everyone necessarily needs to be hoofing it to the gym for that long every day. “I don’t think people should start feeling a lot of pressure on themselves to get out there and start doing 90 minutes every single day,” she says. “You don’t have to be running an eight minute mile. You can go out there and do moderately paced walking and still get a substantial benefit.”
Being more active everyday, rather than less, is already a step in the right direction. And it’s worth remembering that other daily activities are considered moderately aerobic, including riding a bike, flow yoga, or even yard or house work like pushing a lawn mower or mopping floors, according to HSS. Given how many activities count toward your total goal, 90 minutes seems more manageable, especially if you take a page out of the Blue Zones exercise book.