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Short bursts of vigorous activity could reduce cancer risk

Posted on the 14th August 2023

Power walking cancer risk

Activities like carrying shopping, housework and power walking could help reduce the risk of cancer, research suggests.

Published in Jama Oncology, the study found that a total of just four-and-a-half minutes of vigorous activity – done in bursts of around one minute each – during daily tasks could reduce the overall risk of cancer by 18 per cent and reduce the risk of some cancers linked to physical activity by up to 32 per cent.

The study used data from wearable devices to track the daily activity of more than 22,000 people who do not exercise.

Researchers then followed the group’s clinical health records for around seven years to monitor for cancer.

They found that as few as four to five minutes of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) was associated with a substantially lower cancer risk compared with those who undertook no VILPA.

VILPA was coined by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre to describe the very short bursts of activity – around one minute each – we do daily.

In the study sample of 22,398 people with an average age of 62 who did not exercise in their leisure time, the researchers found 2,356 new cases of cancer (1,084 in physical activity-related cancer) over an average follow-up of 6.7 years.

They found that a minimum of around 3.5 minutes of daily VILPA was associated with up to an 18 per cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with no VILPA, while 4.5 minutes of daily VILPA was associated with up to a 32 per cent reduction in the risk of cancers linked to physical activity.

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank Accelerometry Sub Study and only included people who reported no leisure time exercise and no regular recreational walks.

Cancer types linked to physical activity are those where not exercising increases the risk of developing the disease.

The cancers associated with physical activity included liver, lung, kidney, gastric cardia (a type of stomach cancer), endometrial, myeloid leukaemia, myeloma, colorectal, head and neck, bladder, breast and esophageal adenocarcinoma (cancer of the oesophagus).

Related: Counting the health costs of lack of exercise

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