Quick two-minute bursts of intense exercise may help us live longer
Some exercise is always going to be better than none when it comes to our health, but studies continues to drive home the value in undertaking even the shortest spurts of physical activity. Newly published research in this area has demonstrated how a series of two-minute bursts of high-intensity exercise throughout the week may offer a longevity boost, by tying this lifestyle to a lower risk of all-cause mortality.
It’s not always easy to find the time to exercise for extended periods, but recently we’ve started to see how even bite-sized sessions can boost our health. These findings include how breaking up a day of sitting with “activity snacks” can help maintain muscle mass, how lowering a dumbbell just six times a day can offer significant gains in strength, and how taking the stairs instead of a lift might help retain brain volume in our later years.
This new research, published across two papers, again focuses on exercise solutions for the time-poor. The authors drew on the long-term UK Biobank study to assess more than 150,000 adult subjects between the ages of 40 and 69, tapping into wrist-worn activity tracker data to tease out insights about their exercise habits.
In the first study, which involved more than 70,000 adults without cardiovascular disease or cancer, the researchers analyzed the volume and frequency of vigorous activity, and examined the relationship with death from all causes, as well as from those two conditions.
Even small amounts of activity appeared to have some impact. Complete inactivity was tied to a 4% risk of dying within five years. This was halved with less than 10 minutes of intense exercise a week, while the risk dropped to 1% with 60 minutes or more. 15 minutes per week was associated with an 18% reduction in risk of early death, while 53 minutes a week was associated with 36% reduction in death from any cause.
And this analysis revealed that accumulating that time in short bursts of up to two minutes spread across the day had an effect, too. Four spurts of vigorous activity each day was linked to a 27% lower risk of death. Meanwhile, 10 short bursts a week was linked to a 16% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 17% reduction in risk of cancer.
“The results indicate that accumulating vigorous activity in short bouts across 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, accruing small amounts sporadically during the day may be a particularly attractive option for busy people.”
The second study examined the relationship between the volume and intensity of exercise and cardiovascular disease risk. The authors found that lifting the intensity was associated with greater risk reductions for the same volume of exercise. As an example, the rate of cardiovascular disease risk was 14% lower when moderate-to-vigorous activity made up 20% rather than 10% of activity.
“Our results suggest that increasing the total volume of physical activity is not the only way to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease,” said study author Dr. Paddy C. Dempsey. “Raising the intensity was also particularly important, while increasing both was optimal. This indicates that boosting the intensity of activities you already do is good for heart health. For example, picking up the pace on your daily walk to the bus stop or completing household chores more quickly.”