Any kind of exercise is considered good for your health, but vigorous exercise — at a level that causes you to sweat and breathe hard — is the very best kind and could help you live longer, a new study indicates.

Australian researchers following more than 200,000 adults over age 45 for six years found those who jogged, did aerobics or played a sport like tennis at the competitive level had a mortality rate 9 percent to 13 percent lower than those who engaged only in moderate exercise such as social tennis, swimming or doing household chores.

"The benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active," says study lead author Klaus Gebel at James Cook University.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization both recommend around two hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for adults between 18 and 64, or one hour and 15 minutes of more vigorous aerobic activity.

The new study suggests the two may not be equal in the health benefits they provide, the Australian researchers say.

"The guidelines leave individuals to choose their level of exercise intensity, or a combination of levels, with two minutes of moderate exercise considered the equivalent of one minute of vigorous activity," says study co-author Dr. Melody Ding of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

"It might not be the simple two-for-one swap that is the basis of the current guidelines," she says.

Gebel says he agrees and that their study bears that out.

"The results indicate that whether or not you are obese, and whether or not you have heart disease or diabetes, if you can manage some vigorous activity it could offer significant benefits for longevity," he says.

However, he cautioned that people with such medical conditions, or older adults who have not been engaging in vigorous exercise previously, should first check with their doctors before embarking on a course of vigorous activity.

It is also recommended that they start slowly, he says.

"Previous studies indicate that interval training, with short bursts of vigorous effort, is often manageable for older people, including those who are overweight or obese."

Even small amounts of vigorous exercise may help reduce the risk of early death, he says.

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