Want to exercise more, but can’t commit to long sessions? Good news – a study has shown that even short, intense workouts can substantially reduce the risk of premature death.

The research from University of Sydney and UCL recruited more than 25,000 participants with an average age of 62 to wear fitness trackers which monitored their daily activity for a week, and then followed them over an average of seven years to maintain an ongoing picture of their health.

The data showed that almost nine in 10 recorded “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity” – commonplace activities like playing with children or pets, running for the train, or walking quickly up stairs – totalling around four and a half minutes across eight bursts on average per day.

According to the authors, Mark Hamer, Professor Sport & Exercise Medicine, UCL; Emmanuel Stamatakis Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Population Health, University of Sydney; and Matthew Ahmadi, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney, as little as three or four minutes per day of vigorous activity can substantially lower premature mortality risk over no exercise at all.

“We found that just three to four short bursts of activity every day was associated with up to a 40% reduction in premature death from any cause, as well as death from cancer.

It was also associated with up to a 49% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

“The benefits tended to level off the more short bursts of activity a person got. The steepest gains were seen when comparing those with around four to five bouts per day to those who did none,” they wrote in The Conversation.

So, if you don’t have time for hour-long jogs in the park every day, think about adding more vigorous activity into your daily life – even a small increase can pay big dividends for your health.