Daily physical activity can help prevent heart disease.

Daily physical activity can help prevent heart disease.

Short Bursts of Activity: Boosting Heart Health in Minutes

Physical Activity

According to a recent study, non-exercise physical activity is associated with a lower risk for major adverse cardiovascular events. Ceres Van Hal/EyeEm/Getty Images


In the fast-paced world we live in, finding time for regular exercise can be a challenge. But fear not! The evidence is growing that even short bursts of activity can make a significant difference to our health. A recent study published in The LANCET Public Health explored how shorter bursts of moderate-to-vigorous intermittent physical activity influenced overall mortality risk and the risk of serious cardiovascular events. The results showed that incorporating short bursts of physical activity into our daily routines may reduce the risk of mortality, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and other major adverse cardiac events.

Unpacking the Benefits

Physical activity has been linked to several health benefits, but the challenge lies in finding the time to exercise regularly. This study aimed to understand how shorter bouts of activity can contribute to cardiovascular health. Researchers analyzed data from over 25,000 participants who did not report exercising during their leisure time. The study included data on participants’ bursts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and its impact on mortality and cardiovascular events.

The findings were remarkable. Bouts of physical activity lasting at least 1 to 5 minutes throughout the day were associated with a decreased mortality risk and a lower risk of major adverse cardiovascular events. These short bursts of activity, even for less than a minute, were particularly beneficial when at least 15% of the activity was vigorous.

Dr. Matthew Ahmadi, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Sydney School of Health Sciences and a study author, explained, “Doing daily activities with extra effort in brief bursts lasting at least 1-5 minutes at a time has health-enhancing benefits and can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by 29-44%.”

How Much Activity Do We Need?

Structured exercises like going to the gym or participating in specific classes have their merits, but finding the time for longer workout sessions can be a struggle. This study aimed to uncover how shorter bursts of activity, achievable within the confines of a busy schedule, contribute to heart health.

The study utilized data from the UK Biobank, a prospective cohort study with a sample size of over 25,000 participants. The analysis excluded those who reported exercising during leisure time and those who had mobility issues. Participants wore Axivity AX3 accelerometers for seven days to collect data on intervals of moderate-to-vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity.

After accounting for several covariates including sex, education level, alcohol intake, and fruit and vegetable consumption, the study found that bouts of physical activity lasting more than 1 minute were associated with reduced mortality risk and a decreased risk of major adverse cardiovascular events. Over the study’s average follow-up duration of 7.9 years, a total of 824 major adverse cardiovascular events and 1,111 deaths occurred.

The Future of Short Bursts of Exercise

While the findings of this study are promising, there are some limitations to consider. The data used is specific to the UK Biobank and may not be representative of other populations. Additionally, the tracking of activity levels was limited to one week, which suggests that future studies should consider longer data collection periods.

Furthermore, the possibility of reverse causality and confounding cannot be entirely ruled out, and the classification of moderate-to-vigorous intermittent activity may have some limitations. The time lag between collecting data on covariates and measuring physical activity could also impact the results.

To build on these findings, future research should focus on understanding the exact mechanisms by which everyday activities in short bursts improve cardiovascular health. Potential pathways include improved blood pressure, blood sugar control, cardiac output, and reduced oxidative stress. This knowledge may pave the way for more effective prevention and treatment strategies, offering individuals more options to improve their overall health.

Tips to Incorporate Activity into Daily Life

The benefits of short bursts of physical activity suggest that even simple everyday activities can provide health benefits. Here are a few examples suggested by the study:

  • Brisk walking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Engaging in energetic play with children

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, a board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, recommends incorporating physical activity into daily routines. This can be achieved by taking short, 5-minute walks throughout the day, parking farther from destinations, or using light weights while watching TV. Dr. Alexandra Lajoie, a noninvasive cardiologist, adds that even a few minutes of exercise during the day can make a difference.

The findings of this study provide hope to those who struggle to find time for exercise. By incorporating short bursts of activity into our daily lives, we can protect our heart health and reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events. So, let’s embrace these moments throughout the day to boost our well-being, one burst of activity at a time.