Short bursts of vigorous exercise linked to increased longevity  

Short bursts of vigorous exercise linked to increased longevity  
© iStock/Antonio_Diaz

Two-minute bursts of vigorous exercise totalling 15 minutes a week are associated with a reduced risk of death, according to new research. 

Research published in European Heart Journal indicates the beneficial effects of short bursts of vigorous exercise. “The results indicate that accumulating vigorous activity in short bouts across the week can help us live longer,” said study author Dr Matthew N Ahmadi of the University of Sydney, Australia. “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.” 

Vigorous exercise is physical activity completed with a large amount of effort. The intensity of exercise usually leads to a substantially higher heart rate and rapid breathing.  

Studying the effects of vigorous exercise

The first study analysed enrolled 71,893 adults without cardiovascular disease or cancer. The median age was 62.5 years and 56% were women. The researchers measured the total amount of weekly vigorous exercise and the frequency of bouts lasting two minutes or less. The participants were followed for 6.9 years whilst the researchers analysed associations of volume and frequency of vigorous activity with death and cardiovascular disease and cancer after the first year. 

The risk of adverse outcomes reduced as the volume and frequency of vigorous exercise increased with benefits seen in small amounts. For example, participants with no vigorous activity had a 4% risk of dying within five years. The risk was halved to 2% with less than ten minutes of weekly vigorous activity and fell to 1% with 60 minutes or more. 

Are 15 minutes the magic number for longevity?

When the researchers compared two minutes of vigorous exercise per week to 15 minutes per week, they found that exercising for 15 minutes was associated with an 18% lower risk of death and a 15% lower likelihood of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, the researchers found that 12 minutes of vigorous exercise was associated with a 17% reduced risk of cancer. Further longevity was noted when individuals partook in greater amounts of exercise. For example, 53 minutes a week was associated with a 36% lower risk of death from any cause. 

In terms of frequency, completing up to two-minute bouts of vigorous exercise four times a day was associated with a 27% lower risk of death. Health benefits were also witnessed at even lower frequencies: ten short bouts a week were associated with 16% and 17% lower risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  

Dr Dempsey said: “Our results suggest that increasing the total volume of physical activity is not the only way to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Raising the intensity was also particularly important while increasing both was optimal. This indicates that boosting the intensity of activities you already do is good for heart health. For example, picking up the pace on your daily walk to the bus stop or completing household chores more quickly.” 


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