Physical activity is crucial for maintaining good health and longevity. The human body is designed to move, and exercise provides numerous benefits for both physical and mental well-being. However, with various types of exercise available, it can be challenging to know which forms are most beneficial and how to strike the right balance. This article will delve into the science behind the different types of exercise, their impacts on healthspan and lifespan, and how to optimize your workout routine for longevity.
The Scientific Evidence for Exercise Extending Lifespan
C. elegans Studies
The nematode worm, C. elegans, is a popular model organism in aging research due to its short lifespan. Research has shown that physical activity, in the form of mechanical stimulation, can extend the lifespan of these worms (Hahm et al., 2015).
Several studies conducted on rodents spanning decades, primarily mice and rats, have shown that exercise can increase their lifespan. For instance, a study (Holloszy, 1993) found that rats subjected to lifelong voluntary exercise had a 15% increase in median lifespan compared to sedentary control animals. This, combined with similar results across other species, suggests that exercise has conserved effects on longevity across species.
Large-scale observational studies have consistently demonstrated a link between increased physical activity and longer lifespans in humans. A study (Arem et al. 2015) found that engaging in the recommended levels of physical activity was associated with a 31% lower risk of all-cause mortality, while higher levels of activity (3-5 times the recommended amount) reduced the risk by 39%.
Although fewer in number, intervention studies have also clearly shown positive effects of exercise on human lifespan. A meta-analysis (Sofi et al., 2011) found that regular physical activity reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 22% in older adults.
The Different Forms of Exercise and Their Relation to Longevity
Steady-State Cardio or Aerobic Exercise
Steady-state cardio, also known as aerobic exercise, involves activities like running, cycling, and swimming at a moderate intensity for an extended period. This form of exercise helps improve cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and increases lung capacity (Myers et al., 2002). A study (Lee et al., 2019) found that running reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 27%, while walking reduced it by 20%.
Walking is a low-impact form of aerobic exercise that can help maintain mobility, support heart health, and reduce the risk of chronic disease (Murphy et al., 2007).
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT Workout)
HIIT consists of short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by recovery periods of low-intensity activity. HIIT workouts have been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase fat loss, and enhance muscle endurance (Gibala et al., 2006).
Strength Training / Weight Lifting
Strength training involves using resistance, such as weights or bodyweight, to build muscle mass and increase strength. It supports bone health, aids in injury prevention, and contributes to better balance and coordination (Wolff et al., 1999). A study (Stamatakis et al., 2018) found that individuals who participated in resistance training had a 23% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and a 31% reduced risk of cancer-related mortality.
Isometric Exercises; Planks, Glute Bridges and More
Isometric exercises like planks and glute bridges involve maintaining a static position while contracting the muscles. These exercises help to improve muscle strength and endurance and can contribute to better posture and core stability (Park et al., 2016).
Isotonic Exercises; Muscle Tension With Exercises Like Squats or Hammer Curls
Isotonic exercises involve moving a joint through its full range of motion while maintaining constant muscle tension. Incorporating isotonic exercises, such as hammer curls, bicep curls, and squats, can help improve flexibility, joint health, and muscle strength (Bird et al., 2005).
Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote flexibility, balance, and stress reduction. Studies have shown that yoga can help reduce chronic pain, improve mental health, and support cardiovascular health (Ross et al., 2013).
Pilates; Reformer, Mat and More
Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance. Research has shown that Pilates can improve posture, balance, and overall well-being (Wells et al., 2014). Pilates has multiple variations, including classical mat Pilates, reformer Pilates, chair Pilates, and tower Pilates, which can provide additional variety and challenge.
Engaging in sports like soccer, basketball, or tennis can provide a combination of cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility benefits, depending on the specific sport (Sallis et al., 1998).
The Benefits of Exercise for Longevity
Regular exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health by reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure (Thompson et al., 2003).
Engaging in physical activity helps burn calories and maintain a healthy body weight, including a reduction in visceral fat, which is essential for overall health and longevity (Warburton et al., 2006).
Exercise can help combat stress, anxiety, and depression, contributing to improved mental well-being and quality of life (Fox, 1999).
Regular physical activity can support the immune system, helping the body fight off infections and illness (Nieman et al., 2011).
Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Exercise has been linked to a lower risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers (Booth et al., 2012).
How Much Exercise? Finding the Right Balance
Minimum Effective Dose
To maximize the benefits of exercise while minimizing the time and effort required, research suggests that engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with two days of strength training, can provide significant health benefits (Haskell et al., 2007).
Ideal Amount and Types of Exercise
For maximum benefits, a combination of aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises should be incorporated into an individual’s workout routine. A balanced approach to exercise, combining aerobic and resistance training, may provide the most significant benefits for lifespan extension. Research (Kekäläinen et al. 2019) showed that a combination of both types of exercise was associated with a 42% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to a sedentary lifestyle. This approach could involve 3-5 days of aerobic exercise, 2-3 days of strength training, and daily stretching or yoga (American College of Sports Medicine, 2013).
Overtraining and Its Effects
Engaging in too much exercise or not allowing adequate recovery time can lead to overtraining, a state in which the body cannot fully recover from exercise-induced stress. Overtraining can negatively impact overall health, increase the risk of injury, and impair immune function (Kreher et al., 2012). While moderate and vigorous exercise has been shown to have numerous health benefits, excessive exercise can pose risks. For example, study (O’Keefe et al., 2012) found that extreme endurance exercise, such as marathon running, could be associated with increased cardiovascular risk and potential heart damage.
What Epigenetics Tells Us Is The Right Amount of Exercise For Longevity
A 2023 paper investigated the exact amount of exercise needed to minimize epigenetic age (Fox, et al., 2023). The findings were aligned with our advice that too much is just as bad as too little: the ideal number of daily steps is somewhere around 11,247, after which aging re-accelerates (the inflection point). In terms of daily MET hours, a unit of measurement for power output, the amount is 34.7 MET hours. And in terms of average daily % moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, the ideal amount is 5.9%.
The Power of Exercise
Physical activity is essential for maintaining health and promoting longevity. By incorporating a balanced mix of aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises into a weekly routine, individuals can optimize their physical and mental well-being. By understanding the science behind these different forms of exercise and their respective benefits, it is possible to create a well-rounded fitness regimen that supports a healthy lifespan and an improved quality of life.
Interested in learning more? Find out about how exercise impacts the hallmarks of aging in this article.
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