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No time for a gym workout? How short bursts of exercise – 4 or 5 minutes a day – can help protect against cancer, heart disease and more


If you have a gym membership but fail to use it – either regularly or at all – you’re not alone. According to fitness industry statistics, 67 to 80 per cent of people with a gym membership never go.

Our lives are busy, and finding 30 or 45 or 60 minutes a day, a few times a week, to get down to the gym is hard.

But here’s a little-known secret: there is tremendous value to incidental exercise – that is, the kind of exercise you do by accident, without really noticing and definitely without carving out a specific time for it or getting into Lycra to do it.

A recent study by University of Sydney researchers found that what they call “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity” (Vilpa) – or what you might call short bursts of exercise – can provide great benefits, including lowering the risks of developing disease.

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis led the observational study into “Vilpa” exercise. Photo: University of Sydney
Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis led this observational study, which analysed the effect short bursts of exercise have on a disease outcome – in this case, cancer.

The researchers found “a strong association” between Vilpa and a lower risk for those cancers known to be affected by physical activity – which include lung, bowel, liver, kidney, head and neck, oesophageal, breast and endometrial cancers.

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The study concluded that just four to five minutes of Vilpa daily was associated with a substantially lower cancer risk: a 17 to 18 per cent reduction in total incident cancer risk, and a 31 to 32 per cent reduction in risks for those cancers affected by physical activity.

In an earlier study, his team noted “strong and consistent associations” between this type of exercise and cardiovascular disease, an almost 50 per cent reduction in risk from three one-minute-long bouts of exercise a day on average.

Stamatakis explains why. “Vilpa leads to rapid improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness [which] in turn is linked to less insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, both of which are major risk factors for cancer” as well as other diseases.

The study observed more than 22,000 UK Biobank participants who had never been diagnosed with cancer – and who had never done any structured exercise such as going to the gym regularly – for almost seven years.

They were all required to wear fitness trackers so the details of all their activity – no matter how brief – as well as its intensity, could be monitored. The participants’ average age was 62.

Walking while carrying shopping bags for a few minutes counts as a short burst of exercise. Photo: Shutterstock

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults need at least 150 minutes of exercise a week – an intimidating number for anyone who isn’t fit but wants to get fitter.

Many people, especially those in their 60s, don’t fulfil this goal. But it is precisely then, as we age, that we need to be especially mindful of exercise.

It is not just for cardiovascular health and to ward off cancer: exercise builds bone, and older adults are especially vulnerable to fractures as bone density drops off.
It also improves flexibility and mood and can – because it builds the muscle to support joints – reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.
Doing work around the home or garden with a bit more pep can count towards the daily minutes of exercise bursts that will help protect against illness. Photo: Shutterstock

If you start small – with an attainable at-home number in mind, say 3½ minutes a day – you’ll build your fitness naturally, and may soon find the CDC-prescribed 150 minutes a week within reach.

That might help you feel more confident about using a gym, too: often it is a lack of confidence that keeps people away from a fitness centre. Studies suggest even those under 35 report feeling self-conscious about using a gym; imagine what it feels like in your 60s.

Typical Vilpa activities “include bursts of very fast walking, walking uphill, walking carrying a backpack or shopping bags for a couple of hundred metres – from the store to your car, say, stair climbing, and vigorous domestic housework or gardening”, Stamatakis says.

“Many of our day-to-day routine activities can be converted to a burst of exercise by tweaking their intensity” – that is, doing them with a little more vigour, a little faster.

Do your housework, such as vacuum cleaning, with a dance track on to get you moving and make the chores less boring. Photo: Shutterstock

So step up your walking pace and do a walking sprint for one to two minutes during a longer walk, try to find a walk with a few hills, and do this intermittently. You’ll easily meet your three to five minutes for the day, he says.

Do housework such as vacuuming with a dance track on, to get you moving and make the chores less boring, he suggests. And take the stairs instead of the escalator or lift whenever it is possible.

You’ll know if you’re putting in the right effort when you feel your heart rate rising.

You want to notice your pace when you walk is increasing, which is a good reason to invest in a fitness tracker or a smartwatch. Photo: Shutterstock

You want to notice your pace on a walk is increasing too, which is a good reason to invest in a fitness tracker or a smartwatch. A brisk walk means you’re reaching from 100 to 130 steps a minute – as compared to a slow walk of about 60 to 80.

And you definitely want to notice you’re puffing – a bit.

Article was originally published from here

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