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The Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health and UCL’s Professor Mark Hamer and Dr Jo Blodgett, were part of a group of dedicated researchers who have published research that suggests as little as 4.5 minutes of vigorous activity during daily tasks could potentially reduce the risk of some cancers by up to 32 percent.

This research has been published in JAMA Oncology and was led by the University of Sydney, Australia and conducted in collaboration with an international research team. 
The study tracked data from wearable devices to monitor the daily activity of over 22,000 individuals who were classified as ‘non-exercisers.’ Researchers then followed the group's clinical health records for nearly seven years to observe any occurrences of cancer.

The type of activity associated with this reduced cancer risk is referred to as Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity (VILPA). VILPA for short, was coined by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre to describe the very short bursts of activity, approximately one minute each, that are performed with enthusiasm or gusto throughout the day. Examples of such activities include vigorous housework, carrying heavy shopping, bursts of power walking, or engaging in high-energy games with children.

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

On the topic of VILPA, Lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the Charles Perkins Centre said: “VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life.“

What did the researchers find?

In a study sample of 22,398 people with an average age of 62 who didn’t exercise in their leisure time, the researchers found: 

•    2356 new cancer events (1084 in physical activity related cancer) over an average follow-up of 6.7 years 
•    a minimum of around 3.5mins of daily VILPA was associated with up to 18 percent reduction in cancer incidence (compared with no VILPA)
•    4.5 mins of daily VILPA was associated with up to 32 percent reduction in physical activity-related cancer incidence 
•    the steepest gains in cancer risk reduction were seen in people who did small amounts of VILPA compared to those who did none, however, benefits continued with higher levels of daily VILPA - particularly for physical activity-related cancers
•    most VILPA (92 percent) occurred in bouts of up to 1min.

Professor Mark Hamer comments on the findings of this research and said: “Many people find it hard to take structured exercise, thus it is important to highlight that every little bit helps and taking short bites of activity throughout your normal day could be very beneficial for health.”

The international research team who was involved in this study includes investigators from the University of Sydney (Australia), University College London (UK), Harvard Medical School (US), University of Calgary (Canada), Maastricht University (The Netherlands), National Research Centre for the Working Environment (Denmark), The University of East Anglia (UK), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway), Loughborough University (UK), and University of Adger (Norway).

Read the published paper in Jama Oncology.