A woman skipping rope in her home.

Can You Decrease Your Cancer Risk in 270 Seconds?

If you spend those seconds (which add up to 4.5 minutes) doing vigorous exercise, then there's a pretty decent chance that you can.


Scientists already know that short bursts of physical activity can help counteract the negative effects of sitting, but it turns out that small amounts of exercise can lessen your chances of developing cancer, too.

According to a new study led by an international team of researchers, just 4.5 minutes of vigorous activity each day can reduce your risk of developing certain cancers by up to 32 percent. The study included contributions from Christine Friedenreich, an adjunct professor of oncology at the University of Calgary, and was published in JAMA Oncology.

The majority of middle-aged adults don’t exercise as much as doctors recommend, and unfortunately, this may put them at increased risks of developing certain cancers. Yet many of us do exert energy during our day-to-day lives through Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity, or VILPA for short. This includes high-energy activities such as carrying heavy groceries, playing with children, or speed-walking throughout the day.

The researchers behind the study were interested in learning whether these daily bursts of exercise could help counteract the risks of certain cancers. To do this, they studied more than 20,000 adults with an average age of 62 who self-identified as “non-exercisers”, meaning that they didn’t exercise in their spare time.

The study participants were equipped with wearable devices which the researchers could use to track their daily levels of VILPA. Each participant wore their device for seven days at the start of the study, and the researchers then tracked which participants developed cancer over a follow-up period of seven years. They also accounted for other risk factors such as smoking habits, hereditary risks, and diets.

During this seven-year time period, the researchers identified more than 2,000 new instances of cancer in the study participants. Yet those who recorded a minimum of 3.5 minutes of daily VILPA were 18 percent less likely to develop cancer, while VILPA levels of 4.5 minutes raised this amount to 32 percent.

Unsurprisingly, higher levels of VILPA led to the greatest benefits. However, even small amounts of VILPA resulted in far lower chances of developing cancer compared to study participants who did not do any VILPA at all.

These results are encouraging, as they highlight a relatively easy way for those who don’t exercise regularly to reduce their risks of developing cancer. While regular exercise is still very important for our health, VILPA could be helpful on days where we aren’t able to get to the gym.

Although the researchers still need to investigate the link between VILPA and reduced cancer rates in more detail, lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis — a professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Population Health at the University of Sydney — said in a press release that “VILPA may be a promising cost-free recommendation for lowering cancer risks in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing.”

‹ Previous post
Next post ›

Emily Deibert is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto with a passion for science outreach and communication. She earned her HBSc (Astronomy, English, and Mathematics) at the University of Toronto. She is excited about turning scientific research into stories and sharing these stories with the public.