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The extent to which physical activity influences health outcomes depends on its intensity, with higher-intensity activities contributing to greater reductions in disease and death risk. Evidence suggests that brief episodes of vigorous lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) that are part of people’s daily routines, such as fast walking or stair climbing, are as effective as structured, vigorous exercise at improving health outcomes. A 2022 study found that engaging in three to six minutes of VILPA daily reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by as much as 49 percent.

Researchers tracked the physical activity of more than 25,000 non-exercisers – people who did not engage in leisure time physical activity, such as sports – for a week using wrist-worn accelerometers. Then, they monitored the participants' health for approximately seven years.

They found that participants who engaged in three short bursts of activity (each lasting one or two minutes) daily were 38 to 40 percent less likely to die of cancer or other causes of premature death than those who did not. They were also 48 to 49 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

These findings demonstrate that even small amounts of VILPA can markedly reduce the risk of early death, yielding similar benefits to vigorous physical activity performed during structured exercise. VILPA may be a viable strategy for promoting physical activity, especially for people unable or unwilling to engage in structured exercise programs. Incorporating vigorous activities throughout one’s day, with a goal of accumulating several minutes of VILPA daily, can have profound health effects. Learn more about VILPA in this clip featuring Dr. Martin Gibala.

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