Scientists find just 4 minutes of intense physical activity a day could help reduce cancer risks

Power walking is one of many short bursts of physical activity that could reduce your risk for certain cancers.
Power walking is one of many short bursts of physical activity that could reduce your risk for certain cancers. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Lauren Chadwick
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Just a few minutes of vigorous activity each day can reduce the risk of some cancers by up to 32 per cent, according to new research.


Just 4.5 minutes of intense physical activity every day could help to reduce the risk for some cancers, according to a new study published last week.

Published in the Jama Oncology journal and led by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, the study tracked the daily activity of more than 22,000 “non-exercisers” and monitored them for nearly seven years.

Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor at the University of Sydney and the lead author of the study, said that while adults who don’t exercise have been found to have a greater risk of developing some cancers, researchers did not previously measure the impact of less structured forms of intense exercise.

“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 said in a statement.

The researchers excluded study participants who previously had cancer and observed their activity through wearable wrist devices that measure movement.

They also limited the study to people who did not exercise in their free time and who took one or fewer recreational walks per week. The average age of participants was 62.

The short bursts of activity could include intense housework, power walking or climbing stairs.

The researchers found that the benefits increased with more bursts of physical activity, particularly for cancers linked to physical activity. Most of the short bursts lasted up to one minute.

Among the participants, there were 2,356 new cancer events.

One limitation of the study is that it is observational and therefore did not directly explore cause and effect. This is common for studies linking cancer and physical activity among participants.

Physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of 13 cancer types, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The University of Sydney study looked at these types as well as participants’ overall reduction in cancer risk.

The WHO currently recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity.

According to the US National Cancer Institute, physical activity could be associated with lower cancer risk because exercise limits inflammation, prevents high blood levels, and helps to prevent obesity among other reasons.

“We need to further investigate this link through robust trials, but it appears that VILPA (vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity) may be a promising cost-free recommendation for lowering cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing,” Stamatakis said.

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