Optimal Exercise Types and Combinations for Reducing Mortality Risk

A recently conducted study sheds light on the most effective combination of physical activities to promote a longer and healthier life. The research delves into the synergy between different forms of exercise – moderate aerobic physical activity (MPA), vigorous aerobic physical activity (VPA), and muscle-strengthening activity (MSA) – in relation to various mortality risks.

The findings underscore the importance of a well-rounded exercise routine. According to the study, striking a balance between MPA, VPA, and MSA is closely linked to a reduced risk of mortality, although the specific blend of activities varies based on the type of mortality in question.

To lower the risk of:

All-cause mortality: Engaging in more than 0–75 minutes of MPA per week in conjunction with over 150 minutes of VPA, coupled with at least two sessions of MSA weekly, emerged as the optimal combination.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer mortality: The study suggests that exceeding 150–225 minutes of MPA, alongside more than 0–75 minutes of VPA, and participating in two or more MSA sessions, is associated with the lowest risk.

These conclusions align with the exercise guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020. The WHO recommends a weekly routine of 150 to 300 minutes of MPA, 75 to 150 minutes of VPA, or a suitable amalgamation of both, along with two days of MSA.

Furthermore, the research reveals that surpassing the current MPA recommendations can yield even greater benefits in terms of mortality reduction. Individuals who engaged in more than 300 minutes of MPA, more than 0–75 minutes of VPA, and practiced MSA at least twice a week experienced an impressive reduction in mortality rates. Specifically, the observed benefits included a roughly 50% lower mortality rate for all-cause and cancer mortality, along with a notable three-fold decrease in CVD mortality.

To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers meticulously analyzed data spanning from 1997 to 2018 from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey. The extensive dataset encompassed 500,705 adults with a median age of 46.4, and their exercise habits were self-reported. Over a median follow-up period of 10 years (equating to 5.6 million person-years), the study provided valuable insights into the profound impact of tailored exercise regimens on longevity.

Optimal Exercise Types and Combinations for Reducing Mortality Risk
Optimal Exercise Types and Combinations for Reducing Mortality Risk

How different types of exercise may aid health

A recent study has unveiled intriguing paradoxes concerning the impact of various exercise types on mortality risk. The research explores the influence of different exercise modalities—moderate aerobic physical activity (MPA), vigorous aerobic physical activity (VPA), and muscle-strengthening activity (MSA)—on reducing mortality risk from distinct causes.

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, affiliated with the University of Sydney’s School of Health Sciences and a co-author of the study, provided insights into these intriguing findings. He highlighted that MPA can be sustained for longer durations compared to VPA and MSA, potentially making it a more substantial contributor to energy expenditure and weight management. Additionally, MSA’s role in preserving muscle mass is crucial for mitigating a range of chronic conditions commonly associated with aging.

Stamatakis emphasized that conditions often deemed “age-related” are, in reality, consequences of chronic inactivity leading to insufficient muscle mass, impacting metabolic health and promoting sarcopenia. He noted the unique benefits of VPA and MSA, with VPA enhancing cardiorespiratory fitness and MSA potentially influencing cancer risk through mechanisms that are still being explored.

Dr. Rubén López-Bueno, the study’s corresponding author from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, pointed out previous observations of an inverse relationship between MSA and cancer incidence. However, the underlying mechanisms remain under investigation.

Stamatakis proposed a potential mechanism for MSA’s influence on cancer risk, citing how strength training might decrease circulating sex hormone levels, thereby reducing the risk of certain cancers. Furthermore, for cancer patients experiencing cachexia, MSA could potentially aid in managing muscle dysfunction.

However, not all experts are convinced. Dr. Melody Ding, an associate professor at the Sydney School of Public Health, cautioned against prematurely attributing cancer reduction to MSA. She noted that while certain combinations seem to suggest this trend, overall patterns and confidence intervals still overlap, warranting further investigation.

The study acknowledges the possibility of combined effects among MPA, VPA, and MSA, although its design does not allow conclusive determination of synergistic effects. Dr. López-Bueno stressed the need for additional research to unravel potential synergies and provide a comprehensive understanding of the complex interplay between different types of physical activities.

Each type of exercise matters in reducing death risk

Dr. López-Bueno’s interpretation crystallizes the central insight of these findings: the intrinsic value of each distinct form of physical activity in fine-tuning mortality risk reduction strategies.

He underscores that no solitary form of exercise, not even the combination of two, emerges as superior in curbing mortality risk compared to the collective influence of all three types.

Dr. Ding emphasizes the pragmatic application of these findings. She advocates for a comprehensive blend of activities—moderate aerobic physical activity (MPA), vigorous aerobic physical activity (VPA), and muscle-strengthening activity (MSA)—tailored to individual capabilities.

Her perspective is tempered by the recognition that these insights emanate from a single study, urging a balanced view and cautious adoption of exercise guidelines given the challenges in achieving current recommendations.

Yet, Dr. Ding is wary of heightening the exercise benchmark, expressing concern that it might further discourage compliance, considering the prevailing struggle to meet existing guidelines.

Prof. Stamatakis echoes the need for holistic guidance. He calls for a comprehensive and individualized approach to physical activity advice, particularly within the medical community.

He suggests aligning recommendations with a person’s starting point and capacity, underscoring the significance of personalized exercise guidance.

For those who are currently inactive, Prof. Stamatakis advises initiating a pragmatic goal—beginning with moderate-intensity walking and occasional bursts of VPA, eventually progressing to encompass muscle-strengthening endeavors.

In essence, the study’s experts underline the pivotal role of diverse physical activities in optimizing longevity and curtailing mortality risks.

Their collective wisdom accentuates the value of moderation, individualization, and a well-rounded approach in shaping exercise recommendations, taking into account both current activity levels and potential for growth.

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