Why one-minute bursts of activity might be enough to keep you fit and healthy

Running for a bus can help you cut the risk of an early death - Shutterstock
Running for a bus can help you cut the risk of an early death - Shutterstock

Forget the gym - just three to four one-minute bursts of vigorous activity daily, such as running for a bus or carrying heavy shopping, cuts the risk of an early death as much as regular exercise, a study has suggested.

The University of Sydney used wearable trackers to monitor the activity levels of more than 25,000 people from the UK Biobank and followed them up for an average of nearly seven years.

None of the participants did sports or exercise during leisure time.

The team found that people who did three to four bursts of heart-pumping activity were 40 per cent less likely to have died of any cause over the period, and nearly 50 per cent less likely to have died from cardiovascular disease.


There were 852 deaths in the study, around 3.3 per cent. The results suggested that partaking in regular short bursts could halve that risk.

“Our 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,” said Emmanuel Stamatakis, lead author and professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre.

“A few very short bouts totalling three to four minutes a day could go a long way, and there are many daily activities that can be tweaked to raise your heart rate for a minute or so.

“Upping the intensity of daily activities requires no time commitment, no preparation, no club memberships, no special skills.

“It simply involves stepping up the pace while walking or doing the housework with a bit more energy.”

The study found that the gains grew the more short bouts of vigorous activity were undertaken.

The maximum of 11 bouts per day was associated with a 65 per cent reduction in cardiovascular death risk and 49 percent reduction in cancer-related death risk, compared with no bursts.

A comparative analysis of the vigorous activity of 62,000 people who regularly engaged in exercise found comparable results.

Commenting on the results, Paul Leeson, professor of cardiovascular medicine, University of Oxford, said: “The findings are important because they are based on very robust wearable technology.

“The major limitation is that this data is observational. Therefore it does not tell us whether adding short bursts of vigorous activity into your lifestyle, if you are not doing this already, lowers your risk.

“The findings just show us that the type of people who have lifestyles that include short bursts of vigorous activity, for whatever reason, tend to be the same people who live longer and avoid heart attacks.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Medicine.