A plank is a core exercise that involves forming a plank shape with your body
A plank is a core exercise that involves forming a plank shape with your body

People who spend just four to five minutes on vigorous activity like power walking or carrying heavy shopping could cut their risk of certain cancers by as much as 32%, according to ‘promising’ new findings.

A large-scale study looked at the potential benefits of Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity (VILPA), a term used to describe short bursts of activity that make us huff and puff. This could include energetic housework or playing high-octane games with your children.

The research team found that just four to five minutes of VILPA was linked to a reduction in cancer risk compared to people who did no VILPA.

Lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, from the University of Sydney, said: “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.

“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%, and up to 32% for cancer types linked to physical activity.”

People who don’t exercise are at greater risk of certain types of cancers, including breast, endometrial or colon. The advent of wearable devices which can track activity has allowed researchers to analyse the effectiveness of less structured exercise in recent years.

The study team looked at data from more than 22,000 people who don’t exercise, which was captured using wearable devices that tracked their activity each day. The researchers also tracked the participants’ health records for around seven years to analyse rates of cancer.

They found:

  • 2,356 new cancer events (1,084 in cancers related to physical activity)
  • The biggest reduction in cancer risk was seen in those people who did small amounts of VILPA compared to those who did none – those benefits continued with higher levels of daily VILPA, particularly for cancers liked to physical activity.

Professor Stamatakis said: “VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life.”

He went on to say: “We know the majority of middle-aged people don’t regularly exercise which puts them at increased cancer risk but it’s only through the advent of wearable technology like activity trackers that we are able to look at the impact of short bursts of incidental physical activity done as part of daily living.

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

The link between VILPA and reduced cancer risk has led researchers to point to early trials which are showing that intermittent vigorous physical activity boosts cardio-respiratory fitness, which could help to explain the reduced cancer risk. Exercise can also improve insulin sensitivity and chronic inflammation.

Read the study in JAMA Oncology.

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