Short bursts of vigorous activity associated with longer life
Two-minute bursts of vigorous activity totaling 15 minutes per week are associated with a reduced risk of death.
Bouts of vigorous activity lasting two minutes at a time and totaling just 15 minutes per week are associated with a reduced risk of death. This is according to a new study published on October 27 in European Heart Journal, journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
“The results show that accumulating vigorous activity in short bursts throughout the week can help us live longer,” said study author Dr. Matthew N. Ahmadi of the University of Sydney, Australia. “Given that lack of time is the most commonly reported barrier to regular physical activity, picking up small amounts sporadically throughout the day may be a particularly attractive option for busy people.”
Another study showed that for a certain amount of physical activity, an increase in intensity is associated with a reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease. This study was also published on October 27 in European Heart Journal. “Our study shows that it is not just the amount of activity that matters for cardiovascular health, but also the intensity,” said study author Dr. Paddy C. Dempsey of the University of Leicester and the University of Cambridge, UK, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia.
Both studies included adults aged 40 to 69 from UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource. Participants wore an activity tracker on their wrists for seven consecutive days. This is an objective way of measuring movement and is a particularly good way of measuring sporadic activity of varying intensity throughout the day.
“Our research shows that it’s not just the amount of activity that’s important for cardiovascular health, but also the intensity.” — Dr. Paddy C. Dempsey
The first study included 71,893 adults without cardiovascular disease or cancer. The average age of the respondents was 62.5 years, and 56% were women. The researchers measured the total amount of weekly vigorous activity and the frequency of bouts that lasted two minutes or less. The participants were followed for an average of 6.9 years. After excluding events that occurred in the first year, the researchers analyzed the association of volume and frequency of vigorous activity with death (all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer) and incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The risk of all five adverse outcomes decreased as the volume and frequency of intense activity increased, and benefits were seen even at low amounts. For example, participants with no vigorous activity had a 4% risk of dying within five years. The risk was halved to 2% with less than 10 minutes of vigorous activity per week, and fell to 1% with 60 minutes or more.
Compared to 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 seen with higher amounts of vigorous activity. For example, approximately 53 minutes per week is associated with a 36% lower risk of dying from any cause.
In terms of frequency, accumulating short bouts (up to two minutes) of vigorous activity an average of four times a day was associated with a 27% lower risk of death. But health benefits were seen even lower: 10 brief bouts per week were associated with a 16% and 17% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively.
Another study included 88,412 adults without cardiovascular disease. The average age was 62 years, and 58% were women. The researchers assessed the volume and intensity of physical activity, then analyzed their association with the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases (ischemic heart disease or cerebrovascular disease). The participants were monitored for an average of 6.8 years.
The researchers found that both higher volume and higher intensity were associated with lower rates of incident cardiovascular disease. An increase in intensity led to a greater reduction in cardiovascular disease for the same volume of exercise. For example, the rate of cardiovascular disease was 14% lower when moderate to vigorous activity made up 20% instead of 10% of activity, which is the equivalent of turning a 14-minute walk into a brisk seven-minute walk.
dr. Dempsey said: “Our results suggest that increasing the total volume of physical activity is not the only way to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Increasing intensity was also particularly important, while increasing both was optimal. This indicates that increasing the intensity of the activities you already do is good for heart health. For example, speeding up your daily walk to the bus stop or completing household chores faster.”
- “Violent physical activity, incident heart disease and cancer: how little is enough?” Matthew N Ahmadi, Philip J Clare, Peter T Katzmarzyk, Borja del Pozo Cruz, I-Min Lee and Emmanuel Stamatakis, 27 Oct 2022, European Heart Journal.
- “Physical Activity Volume, Intensity and Incident Cardiovascular Disease” Paddy C Dempsey, Alex V Rowlands, Tessa Strain, Francesco Zaccardi, Nathan Dawkins, Cameron Razieh, Melanie J Davies, Kamlesh K Khunti, Charlotte L Edwardson, Katrien Wijndaele, Soren Brage and Tom Yates, 27 Oct 2022, European Heart Journal.
- “The Hare and the Tortoise: Physical Activity Intensity and Scientific Translation” by Charles E Matthews and Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, 27 Oct. 2022, European Heart Journal.