Longevity secret: Elevate your life with short bursts of activity in daily tasks

Three to four minutes of vigorous physical activity daily can reduce the risk of all-cause and cancer-related death by 40% and cardiovascular death by 49% [1].

Recent research highlights that incorporating three to four one-minute bouts of high-intensity interval training during daily activities can substantially reduce premature mortality, particularly related to cardiovascular disease.

An Australian team led by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre published the study in Nature Medicine [2]. Researchers have measured the health benefits of ‘vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity’ or VILPA for the first time.

In VILPA, we do concise bursts of vigorous activity (up to two minutes) throughout the day, such as running for the bus, power walking while running errands, or playing high-energy games with our children. Lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Population Health at the University of Sydney said in a news statement the research reveals that comparable advantages to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be achieved by elevating the intensity of incidental activities performed as part of daily life. Furthermore, the study suggests that the more such activities are intensified, the greater the potential benefits.

Most adults do not regularly practice exercise and sports over the age of 40. However, the study shows that incidental physical activity can overcome many barriers.

It only takes a bit of energy to keep pace while walking or doing the housework. Committing time, preparing, joining a club or possessing unique participation skills is unnecessary.

What did they learn about exercise as a daily activity?

  • Almost all participants participated in some form of VILPA.
  • Among those who participated in VILPA were:
    • The average VILPA bout lasts one minute.
    • Over six minutes, participants performed eight VILPA bouts of up to one minute each.
    • VILPA bouts lasted, on average, 45 seconds. 
  • Compared to those without VILPA, those who performed four to five bouts daily showed the steepest gains.
  • The more VILPA, the better, however, as more significant amounts were found to have greater benefits.  
  • Compared to no VILPA, a maximum of 11 bouts per day reduced cardiovascular death risk by 65% and cancer-related death risk by 49%.

An analysis of the vigorous activity of regular exercisers found comparable results [3]. Hence, vigorous activity does not compromise health benefits, whether a structured exercise program or housework.

What was the study’s methodology?

Using wrist-worn tracker data from UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database, researchers measured the activity of over 25,000 ‘non-exercisers’, individuals who self-reported not participating in sports or exercise in leisure time [4].

In this way, the researchers concluded that any physical activity recorded by this group was incidental to everyday life. Over the next seven years, the team tracked participants’ health data.

Since the studies are observational, direct causality cannot be established. Nevertheless, researchers took rigorous statistical measures to minimize the possibility that results are explained by participants’ health status differences.

Updates to physical activity guidelines are needed

As physical activity guidelines and clinical advice continue to evolve, a team of international researchers from the University of Sydney, Oxford’s Big Data Institute (UK), University College London (UK), Glasgow University (UK), University of Southern Denmark and McMaster University (Canada) are calling for updates. The current global guidelines recommend incorporating vigorous-intensity physical activity into leisure activities such as running or sports.

According to the WHO global guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior, which Professor Stamatakis co-chairs, ‘all activity counts’ and required that activity be accumulated in 10-minute bouts was removed in 2020 [5]. The potential of wearable technology in uncovering “micropatterns” of physical activity, like VILPA, presents a significant opportunity for comprehending the most practical and time-efficient methods through which individuals can derive benefits from physical activity, regardless of whether it is pursued for leisure or incorporated into daily routines.

[1] https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2022/12/09/one-minute-bursts-of-activity-during-daily-tasks-could-prolong-y.html
[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-022-02100-x
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3894304/
[4] https://www.worldhealth.net/news/short-bursts-activity-during-daily-tasks-could-extend-your-longevity/
[5] https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/9789240015128

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