Regularly engaging in short spells of vigorous physical activity — such as speed-walking or quickly climbing stairs — may reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and extend your life, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine.
The benefits of physical activity for people with diabetes can hardly be overstated — ranging from better blood glucose control to a lower risk for long-term problems like neuropathy and dementia. But for many people, scheduling regular exercise sessions can be challenging. So it may be reassuring that several studies have found health benefits from less conventional ways of exercising, like doing short, intense workouts or getting all of your recommended activity in on weekends. Research has also shown that wearing a fitness tracker tends to boost physical activity in adults with diabetes.
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For the latest study, researchers looked at the relationship between brief bursts of physical activity — as part of daily life, rather than planned exercise — and health outcomes in 25,241 adults with an average age of about 62 who didn’t do any structured exercise sessions. Participants were asked to wear an activity tracker on their wrist for a week, and each had valid results (meaning they wore the device and it worked properly) for at least two weekdays and one weekend day. Participants’ health outcomes were tracked for an average of 6.9 years, and the researchers compared these outcomes with patterns of physical activity.
Short bursts of activity linked to lower death risk
During the follow-up period, 852 participants died. The researchers found that the amount of “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity” participants got — short, intense bursts of activity — was linked to a lower risk of death from all causes, as well as death from both cardiovascular disease and cancer. Compared with participants who got no vigorous intermittent activity, those who got three bouts of vigorous activity each day lasting one to two minutes each were 38% to 40% less likely to die of all causes or from cancer and 48% to 49% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. These results were similar to what was seen in a separate group of participants who also participated in structured exercise — showing that planned or unplanned, small bouts of vigorous activity may lead to a longer life.
“Despite the large health potential of vigorous-intensity physical activity, most adults aged 40 and over do not do vigorous exercise or sports,” the researchers wrote. “Our study […] emphasizes the potential of promoting higher intensity physical activity outside the leisure time exercise domain,” they noted, adding that many people “may be unaware that they are taking short bouts of health-enhancing physical activity of higher intensity.”
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.”