Vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA): The One-Minute Exercise That Could Save Your Life

Vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA): The One-Minute Exercise That Could Save Your Life

No time for exercise? Do this!

Did you know that just one minute of exercise a day can lower your rate of mortality from all diseases? A recent study published in Nature Medicine found that vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA), which refers to brief and sporadic bursts of vigorous-intensity physical activity that are incorporated into everyday life, may be associated with a significant reduction in mortality risk from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

The study followed a large sample of non-exercisers in the UK Biobank for an average of 6.9 years, during which 852 deaths occurred. The results showed that participants who engaged in VILPA at the sample median frequency of 3 length-standardized bouts per day (lasting 1 or 2 minutes each) had a 38%-40% reduction in all-cause and cancer mortality risk and a 48%-49% reduction in CVD mortality risk, compared to those who engaged in no VILPA. The sample median VILPA duration of 4.4 minutes per day was associated with a 26%-30% reduction in all-cause and cancer mortality risk and a 32%-34% reduction in CVD mortality risk.

These findings suggest that even small amounts of vigorous physical activity outside of structured exercise can have significant health benefits. This is particularly important for individuals who may not have the time or inclination for structured exercise, but still want to improve their health. Wearable devices , such as fitness trackers and smartwatches, can be a useful tool for tracking and encouraging VILPA, which can be incorporated into everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs.

It’s worth noting that this study is observational and does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between VILPA and reduced mortality risk. However, the results add to the growing body of evidence supporting the importance of physical activity for health, and highlight the potential value of wearable devices in capturing and promoting VILPA.

Physical activity is known to be associated with reduced mortality risk and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Previously, guidelines for physical activity recommended 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity (6 metabolic equivalents or higher) per week. However, recent guidelines have placed a greater emphasis on “all activity counts,” recognizing the health value of physical activity bouts lasting less than 10 minutes and occurring across all life domains. This shift reflects the recognition that leisure time exercise, like going to the gym or participating in sports, is not feasible or appealing to the majority of middle-aged adults, who have very low participation rates.

VILPA is different from leisure time exercise in that it is done as part of daily living, rather than as a separate activity. This makes it more accessible and achievable for many people who may not have the time or inclination for structured exercise. In addition, the health effects of physical activity are intensity-dependent, meaning that for a given volume of activity, higher contributions of vigorous-intensity physical activity (such as VILPA) are associated with additional mortality risk reduction. This is partly due to the enhanced cardiorespiratory adaptations it causes and the protection it offers against the development of certain cancers.

It’s important to note that VILPA is not a substitute for structured exercise, which has its own set of benefits and is still recommended for overall health and well-being. However, incorporating VILPA into daily life can be a useful way to increase physical activity levels and potentially lower the risk of certain health outcomes.

So how can we incorporate VILPA into our daily routines? Some simple ways to get started include:

  • Walking briskly or taking the stairs instead of the elevator when possible
  • Adding in a set of squats or lunges while waiting for the microwave to finish
  • Doing jumping jacks or high knees during commercial breaks while watching TV
  • Incorporating active breaks into the workday, such as going for a quick walk or doing some stretching

By making a few small changes to our daily routines, we can potentially improve our health and lower our risk of serious diseases. It’s always a good idea to check with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, but adding in small bursts of VILPA can be a simple and effective way to increase physical activity levels.


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