Five minutes of vigorous daily tasks reduce the risk of cancer

Staying physically active is one of the factors that can help us age healthy, but that does not necessarily imply going to the gym or going for a run, but carrying out daily tasks such as cleaning the house or shopping can also be very healthy and indeed, a new study suggests that conducting a vigorous activity for just 4.5 minutes a day could reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer by up to 32%.

The research has been led by scientists from the Charles Perkins Center at the University of Sydney (Australia), who used wearable devices to track the daily activity of 22,398 “non-athletic” individuals and then followed their health histories for about seven years to see how many developed cancer.

These researchers created the concept of lifestyle intermittent vigorous physical activity or VILPA (for its acronym in English) to define the brief bursts of intense activity (of about a minute of duration each) that we carry out every day, and that include from vigorous houseworksuch as carrying heavy shopping bags at the grocery store, taking brisk walks, or participating in children’s games that require energy.

“VILPA may be a promising free recommendation to reduce cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing”

“VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your everyday life,” explained lead author Prof. Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Charles Perkins Center. The results have been published in JAMA Oncology and show that only four to five minutes of vigorous, intermittent lifestyle physical activity or VILPA was associated with a substantially lower cancer risk compared to those who did not perform VILPA.

Increased cancer risk in adults who don’t exercise

This researcher has recalled that adults who do not exercise are more likely to develop tumors such as breast, endometrial or colon. “We know that most middle-aged people don’t exercise regularly, putting them at higher risk of cancer, but only thanks to the advent of wearable technology like activity trackers are we able to see the impact of brief bursts of incidental physical activity as part of daily life,” he says.

“It is quite remarkable to see that increasing 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 cancer risk reduction of up to 18%. , and up to 32% for types of cancer related to physical activity”, he added.

Being an observational study, it has not been possible to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, but the researchers say they are seeing a strong link and refer to previous early-stage trials that have shown that intermittent vigorous physical activity leads to rapid improvements in cardiorespiratory fitnesswhich constitutes a possible biological explanation for the reduction in the risk of cancer, to which the role that physical activity plays in the improvement of insulin sensitivity and chronic inflammation.

“We need to further investigate this link through robust trials, but it appears that VILPA may be a promising free recommendation for reducing cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing,” says Professor Stamatakis.

How VILPA influences overall cancer incidence

The researchers analyzed the impact of VILPA on the overall incidence of canceras well as in 13 types of cancer associated with physical activitywhich included liver, lung, kidney, gastric cardia (a type of stomach cancer), endometrial, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, colorectal cancer, head and neck, bladder, breast, and esophageal adenocarcinoma (cancer of the esophagus).

The study sample consisted of 22,398 people with a average age of 62 who did not exercise in their spare time, and participants who could influence the results due to, for example, a cancer diagnosis prior to or within a year of enrollment were excluded. Other factors such as age, smoking, BMI, cardiovascular disease, sleep, diet and hereditary cancer risk were also taken into account. VILPA was assessed based on participants’ activity levels as measured by wrist accelerometers worn for 7 days at baseline.

The main findings were:

  • There were 2,356 new cases of cancer (1,084 in cancer related to physical activity) during an average follow-up of 6.7 years.
  • A minimum of about 3.5 minutes of VILPA daily was associated with up to 18% reduction in cancer incidence (compared to no VILPA)
  • 4.5 minutes of VILPA daily was associated with a reduction of up to 32% in the incidence of cancer related to physical activity.
  • The most pronounced gains in cancer risk reduction were seen in people who did small amounts of VILPA compared to those who did nothing; however, the benefits continued with higher daily VILPA levels, particularly for cancers related to physical activity.
  • Most VILPAs (92%) occurred in episodes of up to 1 minute in duration.


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