alive logo

What Is Vilpa …

… and why should you consider adding it to your life?


Did you ever wish there was something like “exercise in a pill” for when life gets in the way of regular workouts? While not a miracle solution (or a replacement for the gold standard—consistent exercise) short bursts of physical activity throughout the day may improve cardiovascular health, reduce cancer risk, and help us live longer and healthier lives. Too good to be true? Read on.


Another way to think about exercise?

In 2020 the World Health Organization’s global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour acknowledged that “all activity counts” and removed the stipulation that activity should be accumulated in 10-minute bouts.

VILPA, short for vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity, is a term to describe a way of thinking about movement that can be used to promote daily activity in those who don’t exercise routinely.


What kind of daily activity?

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, carrying groceries, vacuuming and washing floors, or playing with the kids are just some of the activities that could be considered VILPA. Just put a little more oomph into your activity to raise your heart rate for a minute or so and those chores turn into VILPA gold.

It’s a viable alternative for those who are short on time, less motivated, or making their way back from being more sedentary to more active. When practised regularly, VILPA can have a positive impact on chronic disease risk and all-cause mortality.

“VILPA can work for most adults, and it’s especially useful for those who are sedentary and for people who don’t have a structured exercise routine,” says Jamie Hardy, a Kamloops-based functional movement specialist.


Movement as catalyst for better health

In our history, humans have been active as a means to survival. In our modern lifestyles, it’s easy to settle on the sofa and order dinner with a touch of a button or a voice command. The problem is, though, all that sedentary living is bad for our health.


Health risks of sedentary living

Sitting for more than 10 hours a day can increase the risk of dementia, and has been linked to a higher risk of obesity, hypertension, high blood glucose levels, and other metabolic concerns.

If you happen to be stuck in a sedentary pattern, VILPA can help, and “you can add yet another beneficial layer to it,” says Hardy, “by adding a type of functional weight-bearing exercise when possible, such as squatting and carrying groceries up the stairs.”


Long-term benefits

Up to five minutes of VILPA daily (three bouts of one or two minutes peppered throughout the day) can reduce the risk of certain cancers (especially breast, endometrial, and colon cancer) by up to 40 percent. Also, the risk of cardiovascular disease following consistent VILPA is reduced by half.

Since many Canadian adults over 50 do not meet the recommended weekly physical activity requirements, this matters. The risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes increases with age.

Short bouts of exercise that do not require extra time set aside might just be one solution, as long as it’s done regularly. “VILPA can help improve cardiovascular fitness over a few weeks of doing it consistently, and the advantage is that it’s accessible to most people and it can be done anywhere,” says Hardy.


VILPA versus general movement recommendations

It may sound like a few minutes of vigorous physical activity can replace the general weekly recommendations (at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity and at least two sessions of strength training) but that’s not the case.

“VILPA is … is less beneficial for achieving fitness goals that are usually linked to a consistent strength routine, for example,” says Hardy.

However, considering that six weeks of short bursts of intermittent stair climbing led to an improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness levels of sedentary women in a McMaster University study, there is but one question to ask: why not?


Frame it right and reap the benefits

Think of VILPA as a complementary activity rather than a replacement, and a solution to improving cardiovascular fitness and reducing the risk of premature death for those who are short on time or exercise-reluctant for personal reasons.

“For more sedentary people, incorporating any exercise into their daily life is highly beneficial, and it can be an amazing start to fitness, as well as an easy way to challenge themselves,” says Hardy.

Best of all? You can do it anytime, anywhere, and without any equipment, club memberships, or special skills: a few minutes of higher intensity, quick bursts of exercise to improve your health and longevity.


A few more VILPA suggestions

Take breaks from sitting 

If you’re sitting for long periods, take breaks every 30 minutes and do a few squats or half-squats. Alternatively, bring your arms up as if doing an “air angel” and then back down again. Repeat for at least 30 seconds, speeding up once you’ve mastered the move.

Get active while you wait 

If you’re waiting in line, do some heel raises: lift your heels and stand on your toes. Use support to start with, and transition to doing it without support as mobility, strength, and balance improve. Try single-leg heel raises once you’ve achieved good balance.

March in place 

Lift one leg at a time to a 90-degree angle, then the other. Repeat for 30 seconds and add another 10 every few days. Try it with your arms up.


Sedentary stats

·         In the last two decades, sedentary time for people over 50 has increased, and a lot of it is spent on screens (2.6 hours in people 50 to 64 years old, and up to 3.6 hours in people 65 and older).

·         Reading time, the only sedentary activity that comes with cognitive-maintenance benefits, has declined in people over 50 in the last couple of decades (1986 to 2015).

·         The proportion of Canadians who use screens during their free time has increased five-fold between 1998 and 2010.

·         Adults 35 to 49 years old have the highest level of passive travel time (likely due to commuting for work).


The importance of protein

Protein, the main building block in the body, is the primary component of most cells—muscle, connective tissues, and skin are all built of protein. Adults need to eat about 60 g of protein per day (0.8 g per kilogram of weight or 10 to 15 percent of total calories).

When our busy lives get in the way of eating the way we should, getting enough of this important nutrient can be challenging. Protein powders can help fill those gaps. They’re available at natural health stores everywhere, and are made from many different sources, including whey, egg whites, hemp, soy, casein, brown rice, or peas.


This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of alive magazine.



Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe