People who don’t exercise can reap tremendous benefits by briefly increasing their exertion level during everyday activities. A recent study by Australia’s University of Sydney used data from more than 25,000 users of wearable fitness trackers to compare those who never engage in vigorous activity and those who occasionally get their heart rates up for a minute or so. Result: Non-exercisers who exert themselves now and then tend to outlive those who don’t ever exert themselves.

Especially notable: Engaging in several short bursts of vigorous activity totaling just three to four minutes per day is associated with a 49% reduction in death from cardiovascular disease and up to a 40% reduction in “all-cause” and cancer-related mortality. Feeling slightly out of breath is a clue that your heart rate is elevated. For most adults, walking at a pace of 120 to 130 steps per minute or above for at least 30 to 40 seconds will do the trick. A pace as modest as 110 steps per minute might be sufficient for people who are unfit or older. Other “vigorous activity” options: Walking at a more modest pace but up hills or stairs…tackling household chores with more gusto than usual.

What to do: Find opportunities for short bursts of vigorous activity each day. You might push your pace for several 30-to-60-second segments of an otherwise leisurely stroll, for example.

The most dramatic longevity gains are achieved by shifting from no vigorous activity to three to four minutes of vigorous activity per day divided into several short bursts. Getting even more bursts of activity is better—11 brief activity bursts a day is associated with a 65% reduction in cardio death risk compared with people who engage in no vigorous activity.

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