While exercise is essential for health, most of us don’t get enough because we don’t have enough time for it. However, new research finds very short bouts—even two minutes of intense activity, may still offer significant health benefits.
The study, published on Dec. 8, 2022, in Nature Medicine, finds doing short bursts of activity spread throughout the day can significantly reduce our risk of disease and premature death.
Lead study author, Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, told The Epoch Times this could include fast walking, climbing stairs, and even doing household chores.
“VILPA bouts in our study’s sample lasted up to one minute and 98% of all bouts lasted up to two minutes,” said Stamatakis. He emphasized that short bursts of physical activity may be easier to fit into our daily routine, as opposed to formal exercise.
Brief Exercise Reduced Cardiovascular Death Risk by Half
Researchers analysed nearly seven years of fitness tracker data for over 25,000 people in the U.K. with an average age of 60 years.
They found people who did one or two-minute bursts of exercise about three times per day, like speed-walking on the way to work or climbing stairs swiftly, experienced an almost 50% reduction in cardiovascular mortality risk.
They also had a nearly 40% reduced risk of death from cancer and all other causes, compared with those who did no vigorous bursts of activity.
According to Stamatakis, 70 to 80% of middle-aged and older adults in most countries, engage in no regular exercise, and it’s difficult to help them change.
“For these people, in particular, VILPA can offer a great option to enjoy the benefits of physical activity through tweaking the intensity of everyday activities,” he said.
Previous studies have already found that occasionally doing vigorous-intensity exercise can have big health benefits.
Research published in 2021 found that people who occasionally pushed themselves while exercising had an almost 20% reduced risk of dying prematurely compared to those who exercised the same amount, but less intensely.
A 2019 study found “incidental” physical activity like carrying heavy groceries and household chores offer time-efficient health benefits, while older research finds vigorous-intensity exercise increases aerobic fitness more effectively than moderate-intensity exercise.
There is also significant evidence that very intense, short-duration exercise improves our insulin sensitivity to reduce diabetes risk.
Stamatakis said fitness tracker manufacturers have a critical role to play in getting people to engage in VILPA.
This is because fitness trackers and smartwatches have all the sensors needed to capture VILPA data accurately to help people to set daily targets and hopefully turn regular bursts of exercise into lifelong habits.
“In general, I hope that our study will help the consumer wearables industry realize the potential of micro-patterns of physical activity, such as VILPA, and place more focus on them when they design new trackers and apps,” he said.
Study Only Looked at Healthy People
“You have to read the context, who the population that was observed was, and what their characteristics are,” said Prof. Peter J Ronai, a clinical Professor of Exercise Science in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT.
The study was limited in that researchers didn’t look at people with chronic diseases, and it was observational, so researchers couldn’t determine what caused the findings.
“You can’t necessarily relate the findings, they’re only specific to the type of population that were observed,” Ronai explained. “You can’t generalize these results to other people.”
This means VILPA might not be the best thing for someone who has multi-vessel heart disease or has had heart surgery or heart failure or other chronic conditions.
An example is the spike in deaths related to shovelling snow after a severe storm, as parts of the U.S. recently experienced.
“It’s not so much the snow shovelling, in and of itself—which is intermittent and can be at a higher intensity,” said Ronai. “It’s what is going on beneath the tip of the iceberg with the person who’s doing it.”
For example, having a disease that makes this activity a health risk, and whether they failed to warm up properly or take enough breaks. People unaccustomed to exercise need to progress gradually to higher exercise intensity.
Additionally, Ronai advises the completion of a pre-activity screening form like the physical activity readiness questionnaire for everyone [PAR-Q+].
Exercise Alone Doesn’t Guarantee Health
This study compared the health outcomes of those who did VILPA to those who didn’t exercise.
“That’s a low, but common, bar to overcome,” said Joshua Yamamoto, MD, cardiologist, Medical Director at The Foxhall Foundation.
He also emphasized that we shouldn’t assume being fit means we’re necessarily healthy.
“Yes, exercise is good, but people are still astonishingly surprised whenever someone who is fit dies unexpectedly of a heart attack,” Yamamoto said.
He said that many heart attacks are because people don’t take a statin and aspirin when their doctor advised them to start, or because it wasn’t discussed with them at all.
“Heart attacks are like rheumatic fever,” said Yamamoto. “They should be of historical interest only.”
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About the Author
George Citroner is a health reporter for The Epoch Times.
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