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Four minutes of this daily activity could slash cancer risk by almost a third, says new study

HEALTH BENEFIT: Heavy shopping bags could be good for your health (Image: Katrina Wittkamp/Getty)

A new study indicates that short bursts of activity can have huge long term health benefits for middle-aged people who don’t regularly exercise. Just four to five minutes of “vigorous physical activity” may significantly reduce their risk of cancer, according to findings published in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Researchers from the University of Sydney monitored activity trackers worn by more than 20,000 non-exercising adults, with an average age of 62. After collecting a week’s worth of data, scientists looked at cancer-related diagnoses, hospitalisations and deaths of participants over a period of several years.

The findings showed that those who participated in daily vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) for an average of four and a half minutes per day had a 32 per cent reduced risk of “physical activity-related cancer incidence” – including kidney, bladder, stomach and lung cancer. For participants who exercised 3.4 to 3.6 minutes per day, the risk of cancer was reduced by 17 per cent to 18 per cent.


VILPA is defined as “brief and sporadic bouts of vigorous physical activity during daily living”. These activities include walking up stairs, carrying heavy shopping bags and completing physical household tasks, as well as fast walking and playing high-energy games with children.

Lead author of the study, Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis said it is a bit like applying the principles of high intensity interval training (HIIT) to everyday life. He believes the potential impact on cancer prevention and a host of other health outcomes is “enormous”.

Professor Stamatakis said: “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.”


He added: “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.

This is thought to be the first study to evaluate the association of VILPA with cancer incidence, the authors wrote. However, 96 per cent of the participants in the study were white, so it remains to be seen if these health benefits are seen across the board.

The study says that while further investigation is needed, it appears “VILPA may be a promising cost-free recommendation for lowering cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing.”

Professor Stamatakis added: “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.”


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