Some of my favorite activities are the ones that challenge me the most — vigorous bicycling, running, swimming, or hiking. There’s just something about working up a serious sweat that leaves me energized and ready to seize the day. I don’t work out that hard every time — but I make a point of exercising vigorously several times a week. Why? I like how it makes me feel — and because exciting research over the last several years has shown that vigorous exercise offers additional protective health benefits that are worth my extra effort. Walking at a moderate pace is touted as one of the best ways to meet the minimum physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes/week. I wholeheartedly agree — it’s easy, inexpensive, and fun. But after you reach this minimum level of fitness, consider pushing yourself harder a few times a week — for fitness-enhancing, life-saving results. High-Intensity Benefits Some of the longer-term benefits of regular vigorous vs. moderate exercise include:
- Better heart health. Vigorous exercise has a greater protective effect on heart health and appears to be more effective in improving risk factors for heart disease compared to moderate exercise.
- Reduced risk of chronic disease. People who exercise vigorously have higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness — which, in turn, is associated with decreased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
- Decreased cancer risk. A 17-year study of 2500 middle-aged Finnish men found the men who were most physically active were the least likely to develop cancer, especially lung or gastrointestinal cancer. And that was after controlling for factors such as age, dietary fat and fiber, and cigarette smoking. The subjects’ activities ranged from low intensity (such as fishing) to vigorous (like jogging). The men who jogged or performed exercise of a similar intensity at least 30 minutes a day had the least cancer risk — a 50% reduction.
- Swain, D.P. and Franklin, B.A. (2006). Comparison of cardioprotective benefits of vigorous versus moderate intensity aerobic exercise. American Journal of Cardiology, 97: 141-147.
- Williams P, Vigorous Exercise, Fitness and Incident Hypertension, High Cholesterol, and Diabetes, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2008 – Volume 40 – Issue 6 – pp 998-1006 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31816722a9
- Laukkanen J, et. al. Intensity of leisure-time physical activity and cancer mortality in men, Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.056713