Do moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity physical activities reduce mortality rates to the same extent?

J Am Heart Assoc. 2014 Oct 17;3(5):e000802. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.114.000802.


Background: Limited data exist directly comparing the relative benefits of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activities with all-cause and cardiovascular (CV) disease mortality rates when controlling for physical activity volume.

Methods and results: We followed 7979 men (Harvard Alumni Health Study, 1988-2008) and 38 671 women (Women's Health Study, 1992-2012), assessing their physical activity and health habits through repeated questionnaires. Over a mean follow-up of 17.3 years in men and 16.4 years in women, there were 3551 deaths (1077 from CV disease) among men and 3170 deaths (620 from CV disease) among women. Those who met or exceeded an equivalent of the federal guidelines recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of the 2 that expended similar energy experienced significantly lower all-cause and CV disease-related mortality rates (men, 28% to 36% and 31% to 34%, respectively; women: 38% to 55% and 22% to 44%, respectively). When comparing different combinations of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity and all-cause mortality rates, we observed sex-related differences. Holding constant the volume of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, men experienced a modest additional benefit when expending a greater proportion of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity in vigorous-intensity activities (Ptrend=0.04), but women did not (Ptrend<0.001). Moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity composition was not associated with further cardiovascular mortality rate reductions in either men or women.

Conclusions: The present data support guidelines recommending 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week, or an equivalent combination for mortality benefits. Among men, but not women, additional modest reductions in all-cause mortality rates are associated with a greater proportion of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity performed at a vigorous intensity.

Keywords: epidemiology; mortality; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Habits
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends
  • Motor Activity*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protective Factors
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology