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You are currently viewing How long and how strenuous should exercise be to reap maximum health benefits?

The Government recommends that we do a minimum of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity each week – or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise – for our health and longevity (GRA). But there are no guidelines on any upper limit.  Is it the case that the more we exercise the greater our health benefits or is there a point beyond which no more improvements can be made?   Is it even possible to have too much of a good thing – can exercising too much or too intensely eventually become detrimental to our health?

Two recently published studies shed some light on these questions.  The first looked at the extent to which the amount of exercise we do can reduce our risk of early death.  The second compared the benefit or otherwise of vigorous versus moderate intensity exercise.

Here’s a quick visual summary of the first (American) study


How much our risk of early death is reduced by

More than no exercise but less than the government requirement


GRA (150 mins/2.5 hours)


3-5 x GRA


10+ x GRA


It shows that:

  • we benefit from even doing a small amount of exercise;
  • exercising for 2.5 hours a week substantially reduces our risk of dying early;
  • exercising for more than 2.5 hours per week is not bad for us but does not result in significantly greater life expectancy.

That’s quite nice to know!

The second (Australian) study concluded that we benefit from occasional bursts of vigorous exercise.  But these benefits aren’t that great – between 9 and 13% over someone who doesn’t ever break into a sweat.  Their recommendation for optimum longevity was to include 20-30 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise into the weekly GRA150 minutes.

On balance, I would suggest that we Nordic walkers get it just right! Most of us walk two to three times a week and, in our Bristol Nordic Walking classes, we generally have a fitness element to get you hot, sweaty and out of breath.  Now we all know that it’s actually extremely good for us!  Happy days…