Study: Intensifying daily activities can reduce disease, positively impact health

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


Maintaining healthier habits is a consistent goal for many Americans as the new year approaches. One new study suggests that this resolution is easier to attain than most think, as simply intensifying everyday activities can provide huge health benefits.

The new study, published in Nature Medicine, suggests that brief and sporadic bursts of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) — such as “very fast walking while commuting to work or moving from place to place, or stair climbing” — correlated with a reduction in all-cause and cancer-related deaths up to 40%, and up to a 49% reduction in deaths related to heart disease over the 7-year follow-up period.

Within the same time frame, 852 individuals passed away, with 266 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease and 511 to cancer.

More than 25,000 non-exercisers volunteered to enroll in the UK Biobank to participate in the study. The participants wore devices that tracked all movement patterns for a week. The average age of those included was 62 and the majority of those who took part in the study were women. The study authors considered multiple factors and adjusted for age, sex, light- and moderate-intensity physical activity, longer VPA bouts, smoking, alcohol, sleep duration, diet, education level, family history, medication use, and prevalent CVD and cancers.

Almost 90% of study participants performed at least some intermittent lifestyle activity and 93% of all bouts of activity lasted up to one minute. The steepest gains in reduced risks were seen among those individuals who completed four to five bouts per day.

Emmanuel Stamatakis was the lead author of the study and is a professor of physical activity, lifestyle, and population health at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre. He explained that the “study shows similar benefits to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be achieved through increasing the intensity of incidental activities done as part of daily living, and the more the better.” These results are encouraging and indicate that even short episodes of activity can have a positive impact on physical health.

Current exercise guidelines note that “health benefits of vigorous-intensity physical activity are gained through structured physical activity such as sport or running during leisure time” and recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. However, the study authors suggest that these guidelines should be updated to include a new emphasis on ‘all activity counts’ including activities of daily living.

The HHS recommends that Americans exercise at least 150 minutes a week and do a muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week. However, according to the CDC, only 53% of American adults meet physical activity guidelines for aerobic physical activity and just 23% of those adults met the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

While this study is the first of its kind, similar research has been previously conducted. A study published earlier this year indicated that there was not “any significant difference in mortality rates between weekend warriors and regularly active participants.”  Both groups had “lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates” when compared with individuals that had a sedentary lifestyle.