Boosting fitness with the right level of exercise intensity

Diana J. Smith

We often wonder what the right level of exercise is. Well, scientists have just answered the question for you. A large study looking at the link between habitual physical activity and fitness levels found that “moderate-vigorous physical activity” is the most efficient way of boosting fitness.

The research published in the European Heart Journal collected data from cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPETs) fitness-tracking wearables worn by 2,070 participants of a long-term research project (the Framingham Heart Study) and even factored in variables like age, sex, obesity, and cardiovascular risk.

It turns out that each minute of extra moderate-to-vigorous exercise on average was equivalent to about 3 minutes of walking, and equivalent to about 14 minutes less sedentary time. What’s more, extra time exercising and increasing step counts each day seem to be able to offset the negative effects on fitness of being sedentary.

“By establishing the relationship between different forms of habitual physical activity and detailed fitness measures, we hope that our study will provide important information that can ultimately be used to improve physical fitness and overall health across the life course,” says cardiologist Matthew Nayor from Boston University.

CPETs measure peak oxygen uptake or VO2, an indication of how much oxygen the body can use during exercise. The more oxygen the body can take on and process as it works, the higher the level of aerobic fitness.

Moderate-vigorous physical activity (or MVPA) is best for boosting VO2, based on these CPET results. Anything that gets your heart beating faster and your breathing heavier such as a brisk walk or cycling counts as MVPA.

It is important to note that the study focused on levels of fitness, rather than any health-related outcomes – but fitness is closely linked to a reduced risk of numerous health issues, including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

“Therefore, improved understanding of methods to improve fitness would be expected to have broad implications for improved health,” says Nayor.

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