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Short bursts of vigorous activity are associated with longer lifespan

Two minute bursts of intense activity totalling 15 minutes a week are associated with a reduced risk of death, according to research published in European Heart Journal, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology

Vigorous physical activity (VPA) is defined as physical activity at an energy expenditure rate of at least six metabolic equivalents (METs). “And what is a metabolic equivalent?” you might ask. One metabolic equivalent (MET) is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest. The following table gives examples of light-, moderate-, and vigorous-intensity activity for healthy adults:

Light, <3.0 METs Moderate, 3.0-6.0 METs Vigorous, >6.0 METS
Walking slowly Walking very brisk (9km/h) Hiking mountains
Sitting while on the computer Cleaning heavy (washing windows, vacuuming, mopping) Jogging at 8km/h
Standing light work (cooking, washing dishes) Mowing lawn (power mower) Carrying heavy loads
Fishing sitting Bicycling light effort (15-18km/h) Bicycling fast (22-50km/h)
Playing most instruments Badminton recreational Playing football, basketball, tennis

The study enrolled 71,893 adults with a median age of 62.5 years and without cardiovascular disease or cancer. Of all the participants 56% were women. The authors measured the total amount of weekly vigorous activity (VPA) and the frequency of bursts lasting two minutes or less. Participants were followed for an average of 6.9 years. The researchers analyzed the associations of volume and frequency of vigorous activity with death (all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer) and incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer after excluding events occurring in the first year.

The risk of all adverse outcomes reduced as the volume and frequency of vigorous activity increased, with benefits seen even with small amounts. For example, participants with no vigorous activity had a 4% risk of dying within five years. This risk was halved to 2% with less than 10 minutes of weekly vigorous activity and fell to 1% with 60 minutes or more.

Compared with just two minutes of vigorous activity per week, 15 minutes was associated with an 18% lower risk of death and a 15% lower likelihood of cardiovascular disease, while 12 minutes was associated with a 17% reduced risk of cancer. Further gains were observed with greater amounts of vigorous activity. For instance, approximately one hour a week was associated with a 36% lower risk of death from any cause.

As the author, Dr. Mattew N. Ahmadi of the University of Sidney, Australia, concluded in the study “The results indicate that accumulating vigorous activity in short bursts across the week can help us live longer. Given that lack of time is the most commonly reported barrier to regular physical activity, accruing small amounts sporadically during the day may be a particularly attractive option for busy people.”

Next time you think: “I don’t have time”, remember that a short burst of intense exercise might actually give you all the time you need.

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