Logging hours in the gym isn’t the only way to reap the health benefits of exercise.
Just four to five minutes of “vigorous physical activity” could reduce cancer risk significantly among people who have been generally inactive, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Oncology.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, analyzed data from 22,398 non-exercising adults averaging 62 years of age who wore activity trackers on their wrists for a seven-day span.
The researchers then looked at cancer-related diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths for the participants over a period of several years.
Those who participated in daily vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) for an average of 4.5 minutes per day had a 32% reduced risk of “physical activity-related cancer incidence” — including kidney, bladder, stomach and lung cancers — based on six to seven years of medical records, the study found.
For participants who exercised 3.4 to 3.6 minutes per day, the risk of cancer was reduced by 17% to 18%.
Those who received a previous cancer diagnosis were excluded from the study, according to the journal article.
The researchers adjusted for factors including age, BMI, heart disease history, sleep habits, diet, family cancer history and smoking status, the release 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,” said lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, in a press release announcing the study findings.
“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,” he added.
VILPA is defined as “brief and sporadic bouts of vigorous physical activity during daily living,” the study authors wrote.
Examples include climbing stairs, carrying heavy grocery bags, completing physical household tasks, walking fast and playing high-energy games with children.
“VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your everyday life,” said Stamatakis.
This is thought to be the first study to evaluate the association of VILPA with cancer incidence, the authors wrote.
The study did have some limitations — primarily the fact that a vast majority (96%) of the adults analyzed were White.
The study is also observational and is not intended to prove a cause-and-effect relationship, the release stated.
Additionally, the participants answered the original screening questions about their activity levels 5.5 years before they wore the fitness trackers.
“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,” said Stamatakis in the release.
“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,” he added.
“The potential impact on cancer prevention and a host of other health outcomes is enormous.”