Another data point for the more-is-more theory of exercise: Apparently you can reduce your risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke by exercising—sometimes considerably. The catch? You have to be about four times as physically active as the current 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week guidelines prescribe.

A new study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) set out to evaluate just how much physical activity is required to lower the risk of these diseases.

This meta study pulled data from 174 studies and found that the most health gains came with an activity level of about 3000-4000 total MET minutes/week. The 150 minutes of moderate exercise/week guidelines comes out to about 750 MET minutes per week.

What are MET minutes? A MET is a “metabolic equivalent,” how much energy it takes to run a human body at rest. Moderate activity like brisk walking is about a 5-MET activity (hence 5 METS x 150 minutes = 750 MET minutes per week). Vigorous activity has higher MET values, leisurely activity has lower.

So, in theory you could reach your 3000-4000 MET minutes per week by running for an hour, six days per week. But you could also get a fair amount of physical activity per day. The study suggests one way to get there:  10 minutes of stair climbing + 15 minutes of vacuuming + 20 minutes of gardening + 20 minutes of running + 25 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or cycling.  EVERY DAY.

Clearly the door is open for most all of us to increase our exercise and physical activity. The good news is that a recent study done on elite master athletes says that a lifetime of intensive endurance exercise does not seem to damage the right ventricles of the heart—contrary to scary headlines that say otherwise.

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