Daily Bouts of Intense Physical Activity Associated with Reduced Cancer Risk


A minimum dose of 3.4 to 3.6 minutes of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity per day was associated with a 17% to 18% reduction in total incident cancer risk.

Participating in sessions of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity for just 4.5 minutes a day may help lower the risk of certain types of cancers, according to new research published in JAMA Oncology.1

Vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity refers to brief and sporadic bouts of strenuous physical activity done during daily living that lasts for 1 to 2 minutes. Examples include carrying shopping bags, carrying children, or walking uphill.2 This type of exercise allows people with health problems or those with little time or capability to be physically active.

“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,” Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, lead author on the study, said in a release.3

A team of investigators from the University of Sydney conducted a prospective cohort study to determine if vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity has a dose-response association with incident cancer among non-exercising adults.

The study cohort included 22398 participants who self-reported that they did not exercise. Data was gathered from the UK Biobank’s wrist accelerometry substudy. The substudy included over 500000 participants from the UK who had physical measurements taken and agreed to share current and future electronic health data.

Activity levels of the participants were assessed by wrist accelerometers that were worn for 7 days when the study began. Participants were excluded if they previously had cancer, were diagnosed with cancer during the first year of the study, or wore the wrist accelerometers for an inadequate amount of time.

Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, body mass index, education level, smoking status, alcohol consumption, sleep duration, fruit and vegetable consumption, medications, parental cancer history, and prevalent cardiovascular disease.

Investigators found that a minimum dose of 3.4 to 3.6 minutes of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity per day was associated with a 17% to 18% reduction in total incident cancer risk. Additionally, a median daily amount of 4.5 minutes was associated with a 31% to 32% reduction in physical activity–related cancer incidence.

Study limitations include that responses to the leisure-time exercise questions were administered an average of 5.5 years before the accelerometry baseline was recorded. However, the researchers noted that the questions had high stability over time among participants who had repeat examinations.

“We need to further investigate this link through robust trials, but it appears that vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity may be a promising cost-free recommendation for lowering cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing,” Stamatakis said.

1. Stamatakis E, Ahmadi MN, Friedenreich CM, et al. Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity and Cancer Incidence Among Nonexercising Adults: The UK Biobank Accelerometry Study. JAMA Oncol. Published online July 27, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2023.1830
2. Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Kritz M, Grunseit A. et al. Barriers and enablers of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) in physically inactive adults: a focus group study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 20, 78 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-023-01480-8
3. Short bursts of daily activity linked to reduced cancer risk. News Release. University of Sydney. July 27, 2023. Accessed July 27, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/996807
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