The benefits of regular exercise are well known, but what exactly are you getting in return for your efforts? A research a collaboration between the U.S.-based Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the National Cancer Institute has attempted to answer this question by quantifying how much longer people live depending on the levels of exercise they engage in.

The study analyzed data from more than 650,000 subjects and followed them for an average of 10 years, analyzing more than 82,000 deaths. From this data the researchers estimated lifespan gains for people over 40 who adopt different levels of physical activity and with varying body mass index (BMI) profiles (a calculation based on a person's weight and height).

To sum it up, the more you do it, the longer you live. For example, 75 minutes of brisk walking per week equates to an extra 1.8 years of life expectancy as opposed to staying sedentary. Increase that to 150–299 minutes of brisk walking per week and the gain in life expectancy goes up to 3.4 years. Make it 450 minutes per week and the estimated life expectancy jumps by 4.5 years.

The study also found that people whose weight is above the recommended level still benefit from physical activity .

Men, women, normal weight and overweight people – all benefit from exercise in terms of longevity according to the study. However, it also indicated that the best results were obtained by those with normal weight who exercise. These people added 7.2 years to their life expectancy compared to people with a BMI of 35 or more (normal BMI ranges between 18.5 and 24.9) who undertook no exercise in their free time.

The research was published earlier this month in PLOS Medicine.