No need to sweat for hours every week in the gym, research suggests short bursts of activity can have long-lasting health benefits. The new acronym to the solution for the time poor, or gym-phobic, is VILPA.
A new study, published in Nature Medicine, indicates that remarkably little quantities of commonplace activities can have a positive impact on your health, if done with some additional vigour.
Led by a team at the University of Sydney, researchers studied 25,000 people in the UK, aged between 40 and 69, who don’t exercise. They wore activity trackers on their wrists and were then monitored for almost seven years.
The conclusion? Engaging in just three to four bouts of VILPA (vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity) a day, even if each bout lasted only for between one and two minutes, was associated with a nearly 40 percent reduction in overall mortality risk (including from cancer) and nearly a 50 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease related deaths. Most interesting of all, says Emmanuel Stamatakis, who led the study, is this: “there is a good chance that participants in this study did not even know that they were doing vigorous intensity physical activity.”
“Many day-to-day activities can be converted to a VILPA burst, just by tweaking its intensity,” says Stamatakis.
How to tell if you’ve stepped up the pace with sufficient intensity? “The first sign is getting out of breath, followed by an increase in heart rate, both of which should be felt after about 15-30 seconds, depending on the person’s fitness level and whether the starting point is rest, light, or moderate-intensity activity.” says Stamatakis. If you can still sing, your activity is light in intensity, he says. Able to speak? You’ve hit moderate intensity. “When we can hardly speak a few words, we are hitting the vigorous intensity zone,” he says. “This is high quality movement, with great health enhancing potential if repeated regularly.”
So, what could you do for a couple of minutes a few times each day to hit your VILPA targets? Here are some ideas:
Stair Lunges: Go up the stairs two or three steps at a time. If you live in a bungalow, try star jumps or squats, instead.
Catch the Bus: If you’re walking somewhere, pretend you’re trying to catch a bus and deliberately break into a run for one block.
Shovel Snow: If the white stuff is still piling up where you live, then make the most of it. “Snow shovelling can be vigorous and intense if there is a lot to shovel,” says Dr. Frances Mikuriya. “Setting a timer can help to get into the short interval intensity with breaks or easy shovelling in between.”
The key takeaway according to Stamatakis, is to mix up your daily two-minute exercises in order to maximise the potential health benefits. “The more diverse any physical activity routine is, the better,” says Stamatakis. “A variety of regular VILPA activities will engage more muscle groups and give the body a better signal to make health-enhancing adaptations. The key thing is to turn VILPA into a lifelong habit that is done several times a day, ideally every day.”
But if you are already a gym-bunny, don't give up your membership just yet. VILPA activities are even more beneficial if you do them on top of your gym sessions. Regular exercisers who engage in 4.4 minutes of VIPLA a day (whether through their regime, or in their daily life) seem to significantly lower their risk of death, compared to exercisers who did none.
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