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Cardiovascular diseases cause 27% of deaths in Australia. Around 1.2 million Australians (6.2% of adults) have 1 or more heart or vascular conditions.

For some people, sticking to a regular exercise habit comes easily but for others building the motivation to exercise isn’t easy, even though we know it comes with significant health benefits. Now Australian researchers have found that it’s possible to get a similar health boost from the incidental activity you do every day. 

The study involved analysing data from about 25,000 patients who were part of the UK Biobank, a major research database which captures all sorts of information about peoples’ lives. The participants used for this study reported that they didn’t exercise in their leisure time. They also wore motion-tracking devices which allowed researchers to see their physical activity and heart rate. The average age of patients was 62 and they were followed for about seven years.

Even though none of the participants exercised in a formal sense, the researchers found that there were still big differences in their health outcomes – things like their risk of heart attack or cancer mortality – and that the difference was caused by whether or not they engaged in something called VILPA – that’s ‘vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity.’ You can think of this as the activities we undertake that get us huffing and puffing in short bursts – such as when we carry the groceries to the car, use stairs instead of the elevator, or a brisk walk to the shops.

Compared to those who did not engage in VILPA at all, people who had three of these vigorous activity bursts (usually only a minute or two in length) had a 48% reduced risk of dying from a cardiovascular risk factor like a heart attack. Even if traditional exercise is difficult, most people have opportunities to incorporate vigorous activity into their day-to-day lives, and the health benefits can be significant.

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