Celebrities have seized the concept, based on the theory that the more intensively you exercise, the less time you need to devote to doing it. Picture: Henk Kruger

London - Taking intense exercise helps you live longer than if you choose long periods of gentler activity, research shows.

A study found fast cyclists lived up to five years longer than those who cycled at a slower pace - and the speed was more important than the duration of the exercise.

The 20-year study, involving 5,000 healthy people who cycled every day, found men who cycled fast survived 5.3 years longer than those cycling most slowly.

Men pedalling at an average pace lived 2.9 years longer.

Among women, fast cyclists lived 3.9 years and average speed cyclists 2.2 years longer than those in the slow lane.

Fast cyclists who spent no more than an hour a day on a bike had the best chance of avoiding premature death from any cause, the Copenhagen City Heart Study found.

Dr Peter Schnohr, who led the research at Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, said: “This study suggests that a greater part of the daily physical activity in leisure time should be vigorous, based on the individual’s own perception of intensity.”

However, Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, urged caution. He said: “Intense exercise puts a huge load on the heart and this could be a problem for people with heart disease or who are unused to exercise.”

The findings, presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Paris, took into account a range of factors such as the number of other sports activities undertaken by the cyclists, Body Mass Index, alcohol intake and blood pressure.

It included men and women aged 21 to 90 years old living in Copenhagen, where a third of commuters regularly go by bike. - Daily Mail