5 minutes of exercise against cancer

Want to reduce your cancer risk? You don't have to run a marathon. A recent study shows that even short efforts in everyday life have a significant effect.

The study at a glance

Exercise has been shown to have a protective effect in some tumour diseases such as breast or colon cancer. The effect is dose-dependent: The more intense the physical activity, the greater the risk reduction. The researchers led by Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney wanted to find out whether even short bursts of exercise in everyday life are enough to reduce the risk of cancer.

What are the benefits of VILPAs in everyday life?

During a mean follow-up period of 6.7 years, a total of 2,356 cancer events occurred. On average, the participants achieved a total VILPA duration of 4.5 minutes per day. The longer they were active, the greater the effect, especially for cancers that respond to physical activity. But even the average of just under 5 minutes paid off: They reduced the incidence of exercise-related tumours by around 30%.

What is the minimum amount of time in which you need to be active?

Even those who were less active than average benefited from their efforts: just 3.4 minutes a day reduced the overall risk of cancer by 17%. However, this time was the minimum required to achieve a preventive effect. For exercise-associated cancers, 3.7 minutes were necessary.

For comparison, the researchers explained that an increase in cardiorespiratory fitness by one metabolic equivalent unit (3.5 ml oxygen uptake/kg/min) is associated with a 7% reduction in overall cancer risk.

Why are short training intervals so effective?

This is precisely where the researchers see a possible explanation for the astonishing effects. Studies show that even small doses of intensive, intermittent activity can increase cardiorespiratory fitness. This general improvement in health and performance could subsequently also protect against malignant diseases.

Take away for medical practice

Many people find it difficult to get up and exercise regularly. However, they may be motivated to incorporate several short bursts of physical activity into their everyday lives. The study could play an important role in persuading people to do so.

  1. Stamatakis E et al. Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity and Cancer Incidence Among Nonexercising Adults: The UK Biobank Accelerometry Study. JAMA Oncol. 2023;9(9):1255–1259. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2023.1830