Sophie Morris tries fitting ‘Vilpa’ - vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity - into her routine with a child, a dog and a job, and finds a new type of ‘step workout’

Until recently, I only thought of the step between my kitchen and hallway as a tripping hazard. But I’ve begun to see it in a new light, as - perhaps - the piece of kit that may parachute me towards improved fitness and better health, according to one emerging fitness trend.

The trend is Vilpa, which stands for the not especially catchy “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity”, and I’m tapping into this concept by re-deploying my kitchen step as a workout aid, using it to do step-ups and kneelifts for two minutes, twice a day.

I haven’t been to the gym since 2009. I wouldn’t say I’m lazy but somehow 15 years have slipped by and every corner of the internet is warning me about my rapidly decreasing muscle mass and pathetic bone density.

Over that time, I have focused on exercise that makes me feel good and gets me outside rather than anything that breaks a sweat. I’m incredibly proud of my steady heart rate, and convinced that balancing on one leg while brushing my teeth will safeguard me from all and any future illness.

There’s been some buzz about Vilpa recently because a significant study has looked into its effects on the risk of cancer. We know that leading an active lifestyle can contribute to overall good health and mitigate the risk of developing chronic disease, but how much is enough?

I tend to get up, do my standing on one leg to brush my teeth, consider taking the three-minute walk to the school gates but typically get my husband to do it. I’ll walk the dog mid-morning for around an hour, which includes a good amount of standing around waiting for the dog to remember she’s with me.

Three or four mornings a week, I get up for an early yoga session, and while I only do 30-40 minutes, I inevitably feel the benefits all day.

The Vilpa study, published in the journal JAMA Oncology, was led by Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney.

From tracking the daily vigorous activity of 22,398 non-exercisers using wrist devices, researchers found that the incidence of cancer was reduced, after seven years, by up to 32 per cent for cancers related to physical activity, and by 18 per cent across all cancers.

Vilpa is a bit like applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life,” said Professor Stamatakis of his research. “We need to further investigate this link through robust trials, but it appears that Vilpa may be a promising cost-free recommendation for lowering cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult.”

This is the key part of the research - that many people find planning exercise into their lives either difficult or simply unappealing. However chipper Joe Wicks and his colleagues may be, not everyone is cut out to rise and shine with a workout every morning.

I ask women’s health and fitness coach Rachael Sacerdoti what she knows about Vilpa, and whether it’s something myself and other gym refuseniks can incorporate into our day-to-day lives with ease. “It’s similar to HIIT but within the constraints of your lifestyle,” Sacerdoti explains. “Some examples are gardening, carrying groceries, playing with your children.” What about cooking, cleaning, or general pottering? I’m wondering if I can write my life off as one long Vilpa session.

Sadly the experts have other ideas. “The thing you look to work on with Vilpa is the intensity,” explains Sacerdoti. “You want the activity to be vigorous, so that it increases your heart rate. The second thing is to make it intermittent, not a continued prolonged session. The third thing is that it’s lifestyle-based, so it doesn’t require you to have any special equipment.”

She concedes that my one-legged teeth brushing is indeed noble, but suggests a squat would be more effective, either crouching down and balancing in a squat, or bending into a squat as you go if you can’t manage that. This gets my heart rate going first thing. But even though I haven’t used any extra minutes for this by pairing it with dental hygiene, I resent it because the “vigorous activity” impedes upon my quiet and reflective time.

My life does feature some unintentional Vilpa sessions, such as rushing around looking for school uniforms in the morning, or rushing back to school with whatever I forgot to pack in my daughter’s bag, but I can’t rely on these.

After a few days of experimentation, I decided to stick with the morning squats, do one or two minutes of step-ups on the kitchen step, and try out some other

Vilpa suggestions from Sacerdoti, whose approach to fitness is called the It’s So Simple method.

These include cleaning the floor in a squat, which requires considerable balance and is pretty funny but not hugely conducive to reaching a clean floor as I keep laughing and falling over and spilling the contents of the dust pan.

Working from the floor is interesting; I thought it would encourage terrible posture, but in fact encourages me to find good posture within the seated position, and inevitably I need to get up often, which is a further strength and balancing exercise. Does general cleaning count? I’d like a reason to bother. But it’s only effective if you’re active and engaged - clean like you mean it. Carrying shopping bags is good if you engage your whole body so as not to strain your lower back.

Sacerdoti gives a thumbs up to vacuuming and window cleaning, but says that ironing won’t get the heart pumping. She suggests trying quick desk exercises like jumping jacks or high knees during a screen break or phone call.

Will we start to hear more about Vilpa? “I hope so,” says Sacerdoti. “It’s at the core of what I tell my clients to do. It’s a funny name but an important concept. The whole idea is that you don’t need to go to the gym to get some exercise into your day,” she says, pointing out that the aim is to increase total daily energy expenditure.

Getting my heart racing must be a good thing. But I’m not sure I like the feeling of exercise seeping into my every waking moment. It’s a bit like the always-on, phone-at-theready mindset I strive to avoid.

Personal trainer Scott Harrison, who runs his Six Pack Revolution programme on Instagram, says that while Vilpa is better than nothing, he doesn’t think it’s enough to make progress in your fitness levels.

“I think you will get a lot more from actually planning some physical activity and doing a proper workout,” he says.

Fair enough. I could do without feeling tired and annoyed every time I look at my toothbrush but any extra reason to make cleaning worthwhile is a win in my book.

Tips Rachael Sacerdoti’s top five Vilpa activities

1 Brush teeth in a squat nstead of standing upright while brushing your teeth, try doing it while in a squat position. This simple change can help trengthen your leg muscles, mprove your balance, and increase your flexibility.

2 Don’t sit down to put on your shoes When putting on your shoes, try standing up and balancing on one foot while putting on the other shoe. This can help improve your balance and strengthen the muscles in your legs and feet.

3 Work from the floor If you have the option, try working from the floor instead of a chair or desk. This can help improve your posture, core strength, and flexibility.

4 Get up with no hands When getting up from a chair or the floor, try doing it without using your hands for support. This can help improve your leg strength, balance and core.

5 Clean your house in a squat Instead of bending over to clean or pick things up, try a squat. It will improve leg strength and flexibility, as well as engage your core.