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How just a few minutes of daily exercise can reduce cancer risk, says study

Just 4.5 minutes of vigorous daily activity could reduce the risk of some cancers, research suggests.

 

Jul 28, 2023, updated Jul 28, 2023
Just five minutes of intensive exercise may be enough to prevent some cancers. Photo: Array

Just five minutes of intensive exercise may be enough to prevent some cancers. Photo: Array

A University of Sydney-led study strapped more than 22,000 self-confessed “non-exercisers” with wearable devices to track their daily activity.

Researchers then followed the group’s clinical health records for close to seven years to monitor for cancer.

As few as 4.5 minutes of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) – defined as the short bursts of activity that make you huff and puff – was associated with a substantially lower cancer risk.

Activities can include vigorous housework, carrying heavy shopping around the grocery store, bursts of power walking or playing high-energy games with the kids.

“VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life,” Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre said.

“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 by up to 18 per cent, and up to 32 per cent for cancer types linked to physical activity.”

The study examined the data from 22,398 people with an average age of 62 who didn’t exercise in their leisure time.

A minimum of about 3.5 minutes of daily vigorous intermittent activity was associated with an up to 18 per cent reduction in cancer incidence when compared with no activity.

About 4.5 minutes of daily vigorous intermittent activity was associated with up to 32 per cent reduction in physical activity-related cancer incidence.

Prof Stamatakis said researchers needed to further investigate the link through more robust trials, but said findings suggested the exercise might be a promising, cost-free option for lowering cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing.

“We are just starting to glimpse the potential of wearable technology to track physical activity and understand how unexplored aspects of our lives affect our long-term health,” he said.

“The potential impact on cancer prevention and a host of other health outcomes is enormous.”

The research was published in the JAMA Oncology journal on Friday.

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