Physical activity, from housework and gardening to a structured exercise routine, is widely recognized as the most important behavior for both promoting longevity and lowering the risk for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, several forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases. In fact, the World Health Organization lists low cardio-respiratory fitness as the number one risk factor for early death, even more than obesity and smoking! So, how much physical activity is needed to give us the best possible chance for a long and healthy life?
The short answer is, the more the better. In a review published in 2001, researchers from the Harvard Medical School of Public Health looked at the available literature related to the volume, intensity, duration, and frequency of physical activity and its relation to all-cause mortality rates in people of all ages. They concluded, “There is clear evidence of an inverse linear dose-response relation between volume of physical activity and all-cause mortality rates in men and women, and in younger and older persons.”
Of course, a mountain of research has been published since 2001, and fitness guidelines have been continuously updated and refined. The current World Health Organization guidelines included the following recommendations:
- Children and teens (ages 5-17): 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day, with bone and muscle strengthening exercise at least three times a week.
- Adults (ages 18-64): 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical a week, with muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
- Seniors (age 65+): 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical a week, with muscle strengthening and balance focused exercises at least three times a week.
The most recent World Health Organization guidelines also emphasize the importance of reducing sedentary time at all age levels, noting that physical inactivity is also a risk factor for poor health.
A 2022 survey of nearly 8,000 doctors of chiropractic from around the world revealed the majority routinely provide patient education in the form of exercise training/counseling and ask patients about their level of physical activity in a typical office visit. Of course, this isn’t a surprise as there is abundant research supporting improved fitness for lowering the risk for acute musculoskeletal pain and recurrence.