Physical Exercise

Increase your odds for a longer healthier retirement

How much exercise do you need?

Most of us believe that some amount of exercise is beneficial and that we should exercise regularly. The World Health Organization has established a target of “150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week…that’s been shown to reduce risk for all kinds of diseases and death.”  A Canadian medical study, analysis of Canada’s physical activity guidelines, analyzes the benefits of regular exercise.


Graph from Canadian stduy showing reduced mortality and exercise

Figure 3. Mean relative risk reduction in all-cause mortality across physical activity/fitness categories.


This study is really a study of studies. The investigators selected some 80 studies based on their criteria that “…involved a total of 1,525,377 participants; averaging 21,791 participants per study (range 302-252,925).” (That’s a lot of people, so I think the report’s findings have a lot of credence.) The study reviewed the impact of exercise on seven chronic diseases associated with a “physically inactive lifestyle”. The list includes: coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. This is a 220 page paper that is understandable for the most part by non-medical readers. It confirms Canada’s guidelines, which are consistent with those of the World Health Organization, that adults should exercise 150 minutes per week. The specific recommendation in this study is for “30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week.” The study says “There is incontrovertible evidence that regular exercise is an effective preventative strategy against premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.” It also states that there is “…less conclusive but still direct compelling evidence…with respect to osteoporosis.” Benefits are significant. The graph above is Figure 3 from the study. The X-axis represents the level of physical activity based on quintiles, quartiles, or tertiles. The analysis had to be displayed this way because the various individual studies did not use consistent measures. The results though are consistent– risk reduction is “dose-dependent”. The really good news is that the curve slopes downward rather steeply at first and relatively modest amounts of consistent exercise can have a large impact. To put it more blandly: “A clear dose-response relationship was observed with marked reductions in the risk for all-cause mortality occurring with relatively small increments in physical activity.”

What type of exercise should you do?

  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Flexibility

If you haven’t done much in the way of exercise recently, the NIH Senior Health website offers helpful information as well as some very practical exercises. The NIH site summarizes what you need: “Physical activity needs to be a regular, permanent habit to produce benefits. Every day is best, but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all. Try to do all four types of exercises — endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. Mixing it up will help you reap the benefits of each type of exercise, as well as reduce boredom and risk of injury.”

Explore this website, check other sites, sign up at your local gym, find at least one friend to be your regular exercise partner, Develop a weekly workout routine that covers the four exercise elements and do it regularly. Find a way to develop exercise as a routine, as a habit. You shouldn’t have to force yourself too much.

Make sure you include some weight training: “To protect your bones, do weight bearing exercises 3 or more days a week for a total of over 90 minutes a week.”

Further Reading


The Mayo Clinic offers a more succinct 7 benefits of exercise that is worth reviewing.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) guide Physical Activity and Your Heart is a good document.

NIH offers a great deal of material that is frequently updated.  Sign up for regular email updates and information at this site. View videos. Get guidance.

The Harvard Medical School published an article in 2009 that indicated that exercise can help stave off depression. The article says “A review of studies stretching back to 1981 concluded that regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression. It also may play a supporting role in treating severe depression.”