One-minute bursts of activity can cut risk of premature death in half, new study finds

Man in living room vacuuming. Doing vigorous housework in short bursts could cut the risk of premature death in half. (Getty Images)
Doing vigorous housework could halve your risk of premature death. (Getty Images)

One-minute bursts of vigorous activity, such as doing housework or walking up the stairs, could cut the risk of premature death in half, a new study has found.

Scientists said that just three bursts of activity a day are as good for you as going to the gym or playing sport.

They added that these bursts can slash the risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease and any other life-threatening illness.

The study followed 87,500 Britons for an average of seven years and is the first study to accurately measure the health benefits VILPA (vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity).

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“It [VILPA] 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,” said lead author of the study, Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, who is based at the University of Sydney in Australia.

“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.”

Scientists describe VILPA as short bursts of exercise that last just one to two minutes, and can include everything from running for the bus, power walking during errands, or playing high-energy games with kids.

Three of these bursts a day reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by a staggering 49% and death from cancer by 40%.

A young boy plays tennis with his father. (Getty Images)
Short bursts of exercise can be as good for you as playing sports, scientists say. (Getty Images)

To get these results, Stamatakis and his team looked at data from fitness trackers of 25,241 participants in the UK Biobank who reported not engaging in leisure exercise.

They then compared this to 62,344 people who said they did vigorous physical activity as part of their downtime.

“Upping the intensity of daily activities requires no time commitment, no preparation, no club memberships and no special skills,” Stamatakis said.

“It simply involves stepping up the pace while walking or doing the housework with a bit more energy.”

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The study found that 90% of participants did some form of VILPA each day with an average of eight VILPA bursts per day. These bursts lasted around 45 seconds each, totalling six minutes.

The highest amount of VILPA per day that the scientist saw was 11, and this was linked to a 65% decrease in risk of death by cardiovascular disease and a 49% decrease in risk of death by cancer.

“These findings demonstrate just how valuable detailed and objective measures of physical activity can be when collected on a large-scale population,” UK Biobank chief scientist Professor Naomi Allen said.

“We are incredibly grateful to all of the 100,000 UK Biobank participants who wore an activity monitor for seven days to generate these valuable data.”

man in shirt and trousers runs for the bus. (Getty Images)
These bursts of activity can include running for the bus. (Getty Images)

The researchers would like to see physical activity guidelines and clinical advice updated to be in line with these new findings, and to recognise that all activity counts.

“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,” Stamatakis added.

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“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.”

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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