“Doctor, what can I do to look younger?” I am asked this question many times every day. My answer: Certainly surgery is helpful, but non-surgical procedures, skin care, and exercise play major roles. What do I answer when I am asked, “How long and what kind of exercise do you recommend?” Even though I personally follow a “vigorous exercise” regimen (elliptical trainer for 30 minutes x 5 times a week at 85% maximal heart rate), for a patient who asks me this question I usually recommend a more moderate exercise program as opposed to vigorous. The patient frowns less, is less prone to injury, and is more willing to follow a moderate routine than a vigorous one.

But what do the experts say? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association issued a special report in 2007 that reads, “To promote and maintain health, all healthy adults aged 18 to 65 yr need moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) physical activity for a minimum of 30 min on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 min on three days each week. Combinations of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity can be performed to meet this recommendation.” According to the report, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is equivalent to a brisk walk and vigorous-intensity activity is exemplified by jogging. These recommendations would lead one to conclude that as long as one is following one of these two programs, moderate and vigorous intensity activities are equivalent in their health benefits.

Now for a shock to my system! At the recent annual meeting of the ACSM in San Francisco, a paper was presented that showed that if you exercise with moderate intensity (jogging at a 6 miles per hour (mph) pace), you were less inclined to die than if you did not jog at all or if you jogged at a pace greater than 8 mph! Less is more!! I have always thought that a greater intensity of exercise gave greater health benefits. Not so according to this paper!!

Now before we throw in the towel when it comes to the benefits of vigorous exercise, it should be said that a 6 mph jog is still vigorous for many folks! After all, a brisk walk is only 4 mph and that’s the definition of moderate-activity according to the 2007 ACSM report. But a summary of the newly released data suggests that walking and light jogging are almost uniformly beneficial for health and do increase life span, but with more vigorous or prolonged exercise, the benefits can become questionable.

More studies will undoubtedly follow, but for now, the message is that the sweet spot for exercise seems to come with less. “Couch potatoes of the world, Unite!”

What do you think?

For further information, please contact my office.

George Sanders, M.D