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How Much Exercise Is Good Enough for Longevity?

Living a long and healthy life is influenced by numerous factors. While genetics and gender unmodifiable, altering habits is possible.

Many factors contribute to a long and healthy life. Some are unchangeable, while others offer the opportunity for positive modification. A study by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä suggests that exercise, while crucial, may not be the sole contributor to longevity. It highlights the potential for even greater impact through adherence to additional healthy lifestyle habits.

Exercise Potentially Not a Standalone Factor

The project, led by Ms. Anna Kankaanpää from the Gerontology Research Center (Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences), was motivated by a prior University of Jyväskylä study suggesting a possible genetic influence on this association.

The study acknowledges prior research highlighting a connection between exercise and reduced mortality from various causes, including cardiovascular disease. However, it also considers findings from other studies, such as one published in December 2021, which suggested no reduction in all-cause mortality or cardiovascular disease for older adults or those with chronic conditions.

These findings, as proposed by the researchers, indicate that factors beyond just exercise might influence lifespan.

Twin Study

Data from over 11,000 adult twins in the Finnish Twin Cohort was analyzed to investigate the association between physical activity and mortality risk. Questionnaires administered in 1975, 1981, and 1990 assessed participant activity levels. These levels were then categorized into four groups: sedentary, moderately active, active, and highly active. Mortality data was subsequently monitored for a 45-year period, ending in 2020.

Findings revealed that by the study’s conclusion (2020), nearly 40% of participants in the sedentary group had passed away, representing the highest mortality rate across the four categories. Conversely, individuals in the active groups demonstrated a 15% to 23% reduction in all-cause mortality risk compared to the sedentary group.

The study further examined the impact of other lifestyle variables on mortality risk. These factors included body mass index (BMI), health status, alcohol use, and smoking habits. After incorporating these variables, the mortality rate in the sedentary group significantly decreased, reaching a maximum of 7%.

Interestingly, the research also revealed accelerated biological aging in both the sedentary and highly active groups compared to moderately and actively exercising participants.

The study suggests that the positive association between long-term exercise and reduced mortality risk might be attributed not solely to exercise itself, but also to a combination of health-conscious behaviors. Regular physical activity could potentially serve as an indicator of an overall healthy lifestyle that contributes to longevity.

The researchers expressed interest in further investigating whether similar trends hold true for cause-specific mortality, such as deaths from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, they aim to explore the reasons behind the observed accelerated biological aging in highly active participants.

The study’s conclusion suggests physical activity’s health benefits might reflect an overall healthy lifestyle, rather than exercise being the sole factor in reduced mortality.

Healthy Habits Work for Longevity

Compensatory belief refers to the misconception that a single healthy habit can counteract unhealthy ones. For instance, some might believe exercise eliminates the negative effects of smoking. The study revealed that the mortality rate in the sedentary group improved when factors like obesity and smoking were eliminated.

The study emphasizes that engaging in physical activity does not negate the negative impacts of unhealthy diet, smoking, alcohol or drug use, or neglecting health concerns like high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes.

Research has shown significant health improvements worldwide through five key measures:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • normal blood pressure
  • a smoke-free lifestyle
  • controlled diabetes
  • treated high cholesterol

While regular exercise can contribute to these benefits, it cannot replace the importance of these established practices for a long and healthy life.

Some Physical Activity Beneficial for Longevity

The research demonstrates a clear association between even minimal physical activity and reduced mortality compared to a completely sedentary lifestyle. This highlights the concept of “some exercise being better than none” for overall health.

Findings from recent studies suggesting a potential plateau in the benefits of exercise after a certain point.

For example, research on daily step counts indicates that the advantages may level off after reaching around 7,000 or 8,000 steps. This suggests that exceeding this amount might not provide significantly greater health gains compared to achieving this moderate level.

The key takeaway is that a very high intensity exercise program may not be necessary to reap the health benefits associated with regular movement.


  • Exercise is important part of a healthy lifestyle but not the only factor.
  • Exercise doesn’t compensate for unhealthy lifestyle choices.
  • Exercise advantages may level off after reaching around 7,000 or 8,000 steps a day.

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