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Short Bursts of Physical Activity Associated With Lower Cancer Risk

Great news for people who don't have the time or the desire to engage in exercise routines, gym visits, or sports. A recent large study found that several very short bursts of physical activity (each less than a minute or two) during the day are beneficial to health. They lower cancer risk!

Researchers followed 22,398 non-exercising adults (average age 62 years) for 7 years. The participants wore tracking devices (wrist accelerometers) for 1 week at the beginning of the study to measure their activity levels. Starting at year 2 their cancer incidence was looked at.

They found that several short bursts of vigorous physical activity (each lasting less than 1 or 2 minutes) each day was associated with lower rates of cancer. And it was a dose response - the more of these little bursts of physical activity over the day, the lower the rates of cancer, especially physical activity related cancer.

About 3 1/2 minutes a day of vigorous activity was associated with a 17 to 18% reduction in cancer risk, but 4 1/2 minutes a day was associated with a 31% to 32% reduction in physical activity-related cancers (e.g., breast, endometrial, and colon cancers).

Bottom line: Engage in a little huffing and puffing physical activity every day and lower your risk of cancer. Run up those stairs! Dance to a song! Carry those heavy groceries! Every bit counts. This could be because short bursts of physical activity improve cardiorespiratory fitness and lower inflammation.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Short bursts of daily activity linked to reduced cancer risk

Promising new research suggests a total of just 4.5 minutes of vigorous activity that makes you huff and puff during daily tasks could reduce the risk of some cancers by up to 32 percent.

Published in JAMA Oncology and led by the University of Sydney, Australia, the study used data from wearable devices to track the daily activity of over 22,000 'non-exercisers'. Researchers then followed the group's clinical health records for close to seven years to monitor for cancer.

As few as four to five minutes of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity or 'VILPA' was associated with a substantially lower cancer risk compared to those who undertook no VILPA.

Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity, or VILPA for short, 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 with gusto each day. This includes activities like vigorous housework, carrying heavy shopping around the grocery store, bursts of power walking or playing high-energy games with the kids.

He said adults who don't exercise are at increased risk of developing certain cancers like breast, endometrial or colon, but until recently the impact of less structured forms of vigorous physical activity was unable to be measured.

"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 percent, and up to 32 percent for cancer types linked to physical activity."

The study is observational, meaning it isn't designed to directly explore cause and effect. However, the researchers say they are seeing a strong link and refer to previous early-stage trials showing that intermittent vigorous physical activity leads to rapid improvements in cardio-respiratory fitness, which may provide a possible biological explanation for reduced cancer risk. Other likely contributors include physical activity's role in improving insulin sensitivity and chronic inflammation.

The current study analysed the impact of VILPA on overall cancer incidence, as well as for 13 cancer sites associated with physical activity; these include 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).

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank Accelerometry Sub Study and only included those who identified as 'non-exercisers' -- meaning they self-reported no leisure time exercise and no regular recreational walks.

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