It requires no time commitment, no preparation, no club memberships, and no special skills. Daily three to four minutes of your time could help you live longer and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 45%.

New research says that just three to four one-minute bursts of huffing and puffing during daily tasks are linked to large reductions in the risk of early death, especially from cardiovascular disease. This is good news for people who don’t like playing sports or going to the gym.

The work, headed by the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney in Australia, was published today in Nature Medicine. The health advantages of what experts refer to as “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity,” or VILPA, are being measured for the first time with accuracy.

VILPA stands for extremely brief bursts of intense physical activity, which may last up to one to two minutes. Examples of VILPA include racing to catch the bus, running while doing errands, and playing high-intensity games with the kids.

Three to four daily sessions of VILPA lasting one minute each are linked with a 40% decrease in all-cause and cancer-related mortality and a 49% reduction in death due to cardiovascular disease, according to the study’s authors.

“Our study shows similar benefits to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be achieved through increasing the intensity of incidental activities done as part of daily living, and the more the better,” adds lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis.

 “A few very short bouts totalling three to four minutes a day could go a long way, and there are many daily activities that can be tweaked to raise your heart rate for a minute or so.”

Most adults aged 40 and up don’t exercise or play sports regularly, but Professor Stamatakis says the study shows how physical activity that happens by accident can help people get past many barriers.

“Upping the intensity of daily activities,” according to the author, “requires no time commitment, no preparation, no club memberships, no special skills. It simply involves stepping up the pace while walking or doing the housework with a bit more energy.”

What did they learn about how exercise fits into everyday life?

VILPA was practiced by 89 percent of participants overall.
Among individuals who participated in VILPA, 93% of all VILPA bouts lasted no more than one minute.
Participants performed eight 1-minute VILPA sessions each day on average, for a total of 6 minutes per day.
Each VILPA bout lasted, on average, around 45 seconds.
People who did four to five bouts a day made the most progress compared to those who didn’t do VILPA.
However, more advantages were seen with higher VILPA doses, indicating that the more, the better.
When compared to no VILPA, the maximum of 11 sessions per day was linked to a 65 percent lower risk of cardiovascular mortality and a 49 percent lower risk of cancer-related death.
It’s interesting to note that findings from a comparison of the vigorous activity of 62,000 persons who routinely exercised were similar. This suggests that the health advantages are unaffected by whether the vigorous activity is performed as part of an organized exercise program or as household chores.

How was the research done?

Researchers measured the activity of almost 25,000 ‘non-exercisers,’ or people who self-reported that they undertake no sports or exercise during free time, using wrist-worn tracker data from UK Biobank, a large scientific database.

By using this method, the researchers were able to figure out that any physical activity recorded by this group was just something they did as part of their daily lives.

The researchers then used health information to monitor the subjects over a seven-year period.

Because the studies are observational, they cannot conclusively prove cause and effect. To reduce the likelihood that findings are explained by variations in participant health state, the researchers, however, used stringent statistical procedures.

“These findings demonstrate just how valuable detailed and objective measures of physical activity can be when collected on a large-scale population. We are incredibly grateful to all of the 100,000 UK Biobank participants who wore an activity monitor for 7 days to generate these valuable data,” remarks Professor Naomi Allen, Chief Scientist of UK Biobank.

Call for updated recommendations for physical activity

The University of Sydney, the Big Data Institute at the University of Oxford, University College London, University of Glasgow, University of Southern Denmark, and McMaster University in Canada have joined forces to call for the revision of clinical recommendations and physical activity guidelines in order to keep up with this rapidly changing field.

Current global guidelines say that the health benefits of vigorous-intensity physical activity are gained through structured physical activities like sports or running during free time.

The WHO universal guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior, co-chaired by Professor Stamatakis, didn’t admit that “all activity counts” until 2020, when they also abolished the requirement that activity must be accumulated in 10-minute intervals.

“Our previous knowledge about the health benefits of vigorous physical activity comes from questionnaire-based studies, but questionnaires cannot measure short bouts of any intensity,” adds Professor Stamatakis.

“The ability of wearable technology to reveal “micropatterns” of physical activity, such as VILPA, holds huge potential for understanding the most feasible and time-efficient ways people can benefit from physical activity, no matter whether it is done for recreation or as part of daily living.”

Source: 10.1038/s41591-022-02100-x

Image Credit: Getty


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