Prioritizing fitness is always a challenge, but finding the time to exercise gets considerably tougher once kids enter the picture. We know staying fit as we age is essential, but between parenting, jobs, and household responsibilities, even when the motivation is there, the time isn’t. There is good news for those who run short on time and can’t make it to the gym, though: New research shows that tiny bouts of activity can do a lot to keep you healthy, and can slash your risk of cancer.
Researchers from the University of Sydney used wearable activity trackers to record the daily activity of over 22,000 “non-exercisers” and monitored their health for seven years. They found that as little as five minutes of vigorous activity per day lowered the risk of some cancers by up to 32%.
“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,” lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, explained in a statement.
And what’s even better is that Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Activity, or VILPA, as measured in the study, isn’t exercise in the traditional sense. It’s not doing a minute of jumping jacks or running the stairs for a minute. It’s normal everyday activity done energetically — such as carrying a heavy load or romping with the kids in the yard — for about a minute.
“VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life,” Stamatakis explained.
Over the course of the study, Stamatakis and his team found 2,356 new cancer events, 1,084 of which were cancers linked to activity levels, in the 22,398 participants. They determined that 3.5 minutes a day of VILPA was associated with an 18% decrease in cancer diagnoses, and 4.5 minutes of VILPA per day was associated with a 32% reduction in “physical-activity related” cancer diagnoses such as liver, kidney, and colorectal cancer.
The research team acknowledged that the study determined correlation only, not causation, but noted that their findings do add to previous findings that VILPA contributes to cardiovascular and respiratory health. “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,” Stamatakis said.
This study adds to an existing body of research proving that short bursts of exercise or movement throughout the day contribute to overall health and longevity more than previously thought. One such study found that simply taking five-minute walks throughout the day decreases blood pressure and blood glucose. Similar longevity and health studies have found that one to two resistance training workouts a week reduces mortality by up to 40% and that simple isometric exercises like wall sits and planks are more effective at lowering blood pressure than strenuous cardio or strength training.
You don’t have to dedicate hours each week to the gym or run miles every day to maintain moderate fitness. Any movement is good movement, and all movement can help you live a longer, healthier life.