The Non-Exercise Workout That Could Save Your Life

Studies show that that vigorous short-burst activity canincrease your daily calorie burn and help you get healthier with very little effort. Here are some easy ways to add more to your day.
Woman hula hooping

There’s good news if you don’t like going to the gym or aren’t going to do those workouts. Research shows that doing just a few one-minute bursts of your normal daily activities that increase your heart rate and breathing are associated with significant reductions in the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and premature death.

Workout Without The Workout

Running to catch a train

A few years ago, I was in the parking lot of my neighborhood grocery store. As I walked from my car toward the front door, I watched an older gentleman, hunched over, walking tentatively across the lot. He was wearing a fedora-style hat and clutching a plastic grocery bag in his right hand. His steps were slow and methodical, almost painful – until a sudden gust of wind blew the hat off his head.

His caution went on override as he almost miraculously jumped toward his hat, bent forward at the waist, and extended his arms outward while chasing it across the pavement. His hat came alive, dancing across the parking lot as the wind swirled in unexpected patterns, taking it a few inches one way and then another. Then, just as the hat would stop and he’d nearly have a grip, it would slide quickly away with another small gust.

I laughed at this sight! A man who seemed to barely be able to walk suddenly sprang to life in the instant he was motivated, and he wanted his hat! Most of us can identify with this sudden burst of activity caused by chasing an important receipt or money blowing in the wind or the times you run up the stairs when you’re late for a meeting.

The Benefits Of Being Physically Active

Being physically active can improve your mental health, help you manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Studies show that adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits. However, despite the benefits, exercise still may be something that you either don’t want to or even can’t do. Exercise routines can seem restrictive rather than liberating, as if you’re bound to them “or else.” It’s also possible that regular exercise isn’t part of your daily routine due to physical limitations.

Despite the large health potential of performing routine, intense exercise, most adults over the age of 40 do not do vigorous exercise or sports. Knowing that, statistically, we slow down as we age or quit exercising altogether, is it possible to have health benefits from the normal daily activities we already do?

Improve Or Even Prolong Your Life With Short Bursts Of Activity

Grandma dancing with grandkids as a Vigorous Short Burst Activity

If you’re running to catch a bus or chasing after your grandkids, you may not be thinking about using these short bursts of activity to potentially prolong your life, but new studies show that they can do just that. According to an article published in the Journal of Nature Medicine, physical activity is associated with reduced mortality risk and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Short bursts of vigorous activity, such as very fast walking or stair climbing, have been shown to have just as much of a positive effect on overall health as routine exercise. These short bursts of intense activity, also known as vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA), are associated with prolonged life. Short bursts of activity require your respiratory system to adapt quickly, which offers protection by helping to prevent cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Structured exercises like gym-based, sports, or high-intensity interval training are not feasible or appealing to most middle-aged adults, which is proven by low participation rates. New studies show that these short-burst activities are more likely than structured exercise for most adults because they require a minimal time commitment and involve no specific preparation, equipment, or access to facilities.

Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity (VILPA)

Carrying groceries down the stairs for Vigorous Short Burst Activity

You’re doing these short burst exercises even if you haven’t realized it until now. Some examples of these intense, short bursts of activity include:

  • Washing windows, vacuuming, or mopping
  • Fast walking or walking up a hill
  • Running up the stairs or running to catch a bus
  • Using a push mower

For some of us, these are usual daily tasks that may require some huffing and puffing, but if you are less active and don’t find that you have these types of short busts as part of your daily routine, consider adding more of them on purpose. There are small things you can change or adapt to experience the healthy benefits of this type of vigorous intermittent lifestyle activity. Here are some ideas of how you can add to or incorporate vigorous, short bursts (1-2 minutes) into your daily routine:

  • While wearing socks, slide back and forth in the kitchen while making dinner.
  • Do a side shuffle from one room to another in your house. When my son was little, he would do this all the time. It made us laugh, but now I think he was on to something!
  • When pushing a shopping cart, stand tall. Do not lean on the cart.
  • Rather than using an escalator or elevator, use the stairs.
  • Walk faster to your mailbox, then take a brisk walk before returning to your house.
  • Grab a gallon of milk, water, or another object from a shelf and lift or move it several times.
  • When getting up from your chair or sofa, stand up and then sit down multiple times just to get that heart rate up.

The Takeaway: Vigorous Short Burst Activity Can Prolong Your Life

Dancing in the house as a Vigorous Short Burst Activity

Even just a little huffing and puffing can go a long way to improving your quality of life, reducing your risk of illness, and possibly prolonging your life. Even if you don’t have the time or desire to hit the gym, join a sport, or start running, you can still benefit from these non-exercise bursts by focusing on doing them more often throughout the day.

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