A Few Quick Bursts of Physical Activity Each Day May Lead to a Longer Life, Study Shows

  • Short bursts of movement during everyday activities, like jogging up a set of stairs, have a significant impact on longevity.
  • Vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity—VILPA—has been shown to help reduce the risk of premature death from conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • To get the most benefit, add at least three to four one-minute bursts of activity each day.
older woman hurrying up stairs with flower in hand

Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Picking up the pace during everyday activities—climbing the stairs, carrying groceries, vacuuming your home—can help reduce your risk of premature death, particularly from cardiovascular disease, new research shows.

The study, published in December in the journal Nature Medicine, found that just three to four one-minute bursts of activity each day can have a substantial impact on longevity. Researchers termed those short bursts of movement vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity, or VILPA—and they have nothing to do with playing sports or going to the gym, though they may provide similar benefits.

“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,” lead study author Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, MSc, professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, said in a press release.

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

Short Bursts of Activity Impact Longevity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting about 30 minutes of exercise a day, or 150 minutes a week. But more than 60% of adults in the U.S. don’t get the recommended amount of daily activity and about 25% aren’t active at all, according to agency data.

The new research, however, shows that even smaller amounts of activity than this may provide real benefits when it comes to longevity.

For the study, Stamatakis and his team of researchers from the University of Sydney examined fitness tracker data from 25,000 people documented in the UK Biobank over seven years. The people in the study were age 40 or older when recruited and reported being “non-exercisers,” meaning they self-reported not doing any sports or exercise during leisure time.

Because the participants did not regularly exercise, this allowed researchers to focus solely on VILPA—any movement by the participants was concluded to be part of everyday living.

“It is not unlikely that the non-exercisers in our study did not even know that they were doing vigorous physical activity,” Stamatakis told Health

Researchers found that just three to four one-minute bouts of VILPA every day was associated with up to a 40% reduction in risk of death from all-cause or cancer-related death, and up to a 40% reduction in cardiovascular disease-related death risk, compared to those who did not log VILPA.

Longevity benefits also increased with more bouts of VILPA—a maximum of 11 VILPA bouts per day was associated with a 49% reduction in risk of cancer-related death and a 65% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease-related death.

A comparative analysis of more than 62,000 people who engaged in vigorous physical activity (VPA) regularly, found comparable results to those elicited by VILPA, leading researchers to suggest that the benefits of vigorous activity are similar whether done during a specific exercise routine or daily life.

Despite the promising results, more diverse data is needed to see the full extent to which VILPA can impact longevity, according to Daniel Duprez, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine in the University of Minnesota School of Medicine’s Cardiovascular Division, who was not involved in the study.

Because the new research looked at a very narrow sample of people—mainly white and college-educated, and all middle-aged—Dr. Duprez said he'd like to see a similar study conducted on a group that comes from more diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds since systemic racism has created health-hindering issues, particularly in the United States.

How to Add More VILPA to Your Day

Overall, the new research shows the benefit that activity has on overall health and longevity, and that working more activity into your daily life—even in short bursts—can be worthwhile, especially for people who are not active at their jobs and do not exercise.

“Physical exercise is known to lower blood pressure, it contributes to combating obesity, and it makes you more fit,” Dr. Duprez told Health. “If you don’t like to exercise but you do vigorous activity daily, your risk will be less for cancer and disease than if you don’t do any.”

In order to add more VILPA to your day, Dr. Duprez notes that it’s important to emphasize the “vigorous” aspect of the name—the activity must get the heart pumping above its baseline or resting heart rate.

“Many day-to-day activities can be converted to a VILPA burst by tweaking their intensity,” added Stamatakis. “For example, by doing them in a more energetic and vigorous way.”

Instead of simply walking up the stairs, think about picking up the pace to more of a jog; you could also choose routes that involve walking uphill instead of on flat ground, or attempting to bring all the grocery bags in on one trip.

Stamatakis recommends aiming for a minimum of two to three one-minute burst per day, or seven to eight shorter bursts of 30–45 seconds to get full longevity benefits. “The more the better,” he said.

It’s also important to note that these bursts should be a regular part of your routine—not something you focus on a few times and then stop.

“What’s important about such bouts,” said Stamatakis, “is that people do them with regularity and that they become a lifelong habit.”

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  1. Stamatakis E, Ahmadi MN, Gill JMR, et al. Association of wearable device-measured vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity with mortalityNat Med. 2022;28(12):2521-2529. doi:10.1038/s41591-022-02100-x

  2. University of Sydney. One-minute bursts of activity during daily tasks could prolong your life, finds study.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General.

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