Exercising in short, intense bursts of activity may contribute to longevity, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal.
Many studies on the health benefits of physical activity — especially aerobic exercise (cardio) — have looked at routines that involve regular moderate activity. These studies have found longevity benefits at various levels, including between 2.6 and 4.5 hours per week of structured exercise in one study. But for the latest study, researchers looked at much shorter weekly exercise times — as little as 10 minutes each week of vigorous activity.
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The new study examined rates of death from all causes, from cardiovascular disease, and from cancer in adults who participated in the UK Biobank, a large general health study. There were 71,893 participants with an average age of 62.5, who wore an activity tracking device on their wrist for seven days. They had their health outcomes tracked for an average of 5.9 years, and researchers then connected the amount of vigorous activity they got with long-term health outcomes.
Increased vigorous activity linked to decreased death rate
During the follow-up period, the risk of dying over a five-year period varied based on how much vigorous activity participants got during the week in which it was tracked. After adjusting for factors other than physical activity that could affect the risk of dying, the researchers found that participants who got no vigorous activity over the course of a week had a death rate of 4.17%. Those who got less than 10 minutes of vigorous activity had a death rate of 2.12%, those who got at least 10 but less than 30 minutes of vigorous activity had a death rate of 1.78%, those who got at least 30 but less than 60 minutes of vigorous activity had a death rate of 1.47%, and those who got at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity had a death rate of 1.10%.
Compared with participants whose low level of vigorous activity put them at the fifth percentile — meaning that 95% of participants got more physical activity — which was 2.2 minutes per week, the amount of vigorous activity linked to the lowest risk of dying was 53.6 minutes per week. Compared with those who got 2.2 minutes of activity, those who got 53.6 minutes over the course of the week were 36% less likely to die over five years during the follow-up period.
Compared with getting 2.2 minutes of vigorous exercise during the week, the amount of vigorous activity linked to the lowest risk of dying from cancer was 55.4 minutes — for a 32% lower cancer death risk. When it came to the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, more vigorous activity was consistently linked to a lower death risk — this risk reduction didn’t level off at higher levels of activity, as it did for overall death risk and cancer death risk.
“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,” said study author Matthew N. Ahmadi, PhD, a professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, in a press release on the study. “The results indicate that accumulating vigorous activity in short bouts across the week can help us live longer.”
Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”