A recent study has revealed that even short bursts of energetic physical activity, lasting just a few minutes, can significantly lower the chances of getting cancer. This discovery comes as a boon for those who find it hard to hit the gym for a workout, either due to lack of time or simply not being fond of it.
Previous studies have already demonstrated the positive impact of vigorous physical activity in reducing the risk of cancer. However, for many people, finding time in their busy schedules to exercise can be challenging, not to mention the costs and the lack of appeal.
But there might be a promising solution: “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity,” or VILPA. This approach involves incorporating short bursts of intense physical activity into our daily routines, lasting just one or two minutes.
These bursts could be as simple as brisk walking, climbing stairs, doing energetic household chores, or even carrying heavy groceries.
Incorporating these small, powerful bursts of activity into our regular tasks might be the answer to staying healthy and reducing cancer risk. So, for those who can’t spare time for a dedicated gym session, this could be a more appealing and practical option for staying fit and well.
Details of the study
The study’s lead author, Emmanuel Stamatakis, explains that most middle-aged individuals tend to skip regular exercise, making them more susceptible to cancer risks.
However, thanks to wearable technology like activity trackers, researchers now have the means to investigate the influence of short bursts of unintentional physical activity performed during daily routines.
The study examined 22,398 participants from the UK Biobank wrist accelerometry study. These individuals were classified as “non-exercisers,” meaning they didn’t engage in leisure-time exercise and only had one or fewer recreational walks per week.
The average age of the participants was 62, with men comprising 45.2% of the sample and women 54.8%. Researchers excluded those with prior or recent cancer diagnoses within the first year of the study.
Factors like age, smoking status, BMI, cardiovascular disease, sleep, diet, and parental cancer history were also considered.
Results of the study
To assess VILPA, data from wrist-worn trackers over seven days were analyzed. The study found that the median daily average length of VILPA was 4.5 minutes, with the maximum being 16 minutes.
Notably, 92.3% of participants accumulated VILPA in bursts lasting up to one minute, and 97.3% of bouts were two minutes or less. These findings shed light on the potential benefits of VILPA in reducing cancer risk for those who are not inclined to engage in structured exercise.
In a significant follow-up research effort spanning over six years, scientists observed 2,356 new cancer cases, with 1,084 occurring in 13 sites associated with physical activity. These sites encompass liver, lung, kidney, stomach, endometrial, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, colorectal, head and neck, bladder, breast, and esophageal cancers.
Just 4.5 minutes of vigorous activity daily may reduce cancer risk pic.twitter.com/2B3nsCuWNW
— The Shillong Times (@ShillongTimesIn) July 28, 2023
The study found that engaging in a mere 3.5 minutes of daily VILPA led to an impressive 18% reduction in cancer incidence compared to no exercise. Even more strikingly, increasing the daily VILPA to 4.5 minutes resulted in a substantial 32% drop in the incidence of physical-activity-related cancers.
The most notable benefits were observed in individuals who incorporated small amounts of VILPA into their routines, but the advantages continued to increase as daily VILPA levels rose.
Lead researcher, Emmanuel Stamatakis, expressed amazement at the findings, highlighting that elevating the intensity of daily activities by as little as one minute is associated with an overall decrease in cancer risk of up to 18%. Moreover, the risk reduction was as high as 32% for cancer types linked to physical activity.
Effects of intermittent vigorous activity
Although the study was observational and cannot prove direct cause and effect, the researchers propose that the positive effects of intermittent vigorous activity on cancer risk might be connected to improved cardio-respiratory fitness.
Other factors, such as enhanced insulin sensitivity and reduced chronic inflammation due to physical activity, likely contribute to the lowered risk.
Stamatakis emphasized the need to further explore this link through robust trials. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that VILPA could be a promising and cost-effective recommendation to decrease cancer risk, especially for individuals who struggle with structured exercise or find it unappealing.
The study was published in the esteemed journal JAMA Oncology, contributing valuable insights to the field of cancer research.