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Short one-minute spells of exercise during daily tasks can lead to large reductions in the risk of early death, a new study suggests.

The research, published on Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine, said just three to four one-minute bouts of vigorous physical activity are associated with up to a 49 % reduction in death related to cardiovascular disease. Scientists from the University of Sydney in Australia measured the health benefits of what is called “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity” (Vilpa) or very short bursts of vigorous physical activity like running to catch a bus or bursts of power walking while performing errands. Researchers found Vilpa every day is associated with up to 40% reduction in all-cause and cancer-related mortality. The findings point to the potential of incidental physical activity in helping overcome the barriers many people face in taking part in regular exercise or sports.

“Upping the intensity of daily activities 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,” study lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University said in a statement.

“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,” Dr. Stamatakis added.

In the study, researchers analyzed wrist-worn tracker data from the large-scale biomedical database UK Biobank to measure the activity of over 25,000 “non-exercisers” who self-reported that they did not play any sports or undergo exercise during leisure time.

From this data, scientists could ascertain that any activity recorded by the trackers worn by people in this group was an incidental physical activity part of daily life.

The findings indicated that Vilpa in non-exercisers elicited similar effects to vigorous physical activity in exercisers, suggesting it may be a “suitable physical activity target, especially in people not able or willing to exercise”.

“A few very short bouts totaling 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,” Dr. Stamatakis said.

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