No Time For Regular Exercise? New Study Finds Short Activity Bursts May Also Lower Cancer Risk

Sometimes on a busy day, you may find yourself only getting up and moving around briefly, but a new study finds even a few minutes of activity that gets your heart pumping may lower your risk of cancer.

Researchers from the University of Sydney recently used fitness trackers to gauge the cancer risk of non-exercisers, finding that around five minutes per day of vigorous activity in this group was linked with up to a 32% lower risk of certain cancers, compared with people who didn’t move at all. The researchers note that most middle-aged people don’t exercise regularly, so this is good news for those less inclined to hit the gym.

Two people deep cleaning floor and windows

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, the study’s lead author, says, “It’s quite remarkable to see that upping the intensity of daily tasks for as little as four to five minutes a day, done in short bursts of around one minute each, is linked to an overall reduction in cancer risk.”

The physical activity in the study, published in JAMA Oncology, is referred to as VILPA, or Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity. Coined by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center, the term includes things like carrying heavy items around a store, bursts of power walking, briefly playing high-intensity games with kids, and vigorous housework. While more standard exercise has been linked with a reduced risk of certain cancers, the team says the impact of short bursts of activity, of about a minute each, haven’t been studied as extensively.

Couple carrying heavy furniture

To study it, the researchers analyzed accelerometer data from more than 22,000 self-reported non-exercisers in the UK Biobank study. They had an average age of 62 and were followed for an average of 6.7 years.

The team found that 3.5 minutes of VILPA per day was linked with a 17% to 18% lower cancer risk, compared with no VILPA. Adding just one more minute to that was associated with a 31% to 32% lower risk of cancers related to physical activity, including breast and colon cancers.

While more research needs to be done, the researchers say this may prove to be one non-labor-intensive way to lower cancer risk.

Stamatakis says, “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 or unappealing.”

Father giving son piggyback ride

It may not involve VILPA, but other research has found that shorter amounts of exercise may also be beneficial against stage IV cancer. You can read about that here.

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