New research suggests those little bursts of daily activities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can truly pack a punch when it comes to reducing cancer risks.
We all know we should exercise (cue: eye roll), but finding the time to do so can be difficult. What if we could improve our health and reduce our disease risk without adding new tasks to our to-do list?
A recent study published in The Jama Network looks into the potential health benefits of short bursts of vigorous physical activity, which we already do on a daily basis. Power-walking to the bus stop, climbing stairs, doing housework, or running errands are all examples.
The promising findings suggest that health is not limited to structured workouts; by transforming these mundane tasks into micro-workouts, you can watch your health improve without adding anything new to your routine.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
Researchers examined the activity habits of 22,398 participants who had never been diagnosed with cancer and did not participate in any structured leisure-time exercise using data from the UK Biobank. The group was mostly female, with an average age of 62, and factors like smoking, diet, and alcohol consumption were considered.
Participants wore wrist activity trackers for a week, which allowed the research team to assess the intensity and duration of their movement. Over the next 6.7 years, the recorded activity data was linked with cancer registrations and other health records. The team estimated the impact of „vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity“ — those daily bursts of movement — on overall cancer risk thanks to this data fusion.
And the results were compelling. Despite not engaging in any structured exercise, approximately 94 per cent of the participants recorded bouts of vigorous activity, 92 per cent of which lasted less than a minute. It turns out that these mini-workouts could have a significant impact on health.
The researchers discovered that even as little as 3.5 minutes of these brisk, incidental daily activities was associated with a significant 17-18 per cent reduction in total cancer risk compared to those who did not participate in such activities. And, for those who were more active, completing at least 4.5 minutes of physical activity per day, the total cancer risk was reduced by 20-21 per cent.
The results were more significant regarding breast, lung, and bowel cancers, the risks of which are known to be influenced by physical activity. The same 3.5 minutes of vigorous activity per day resulted in an astonishing 28-29 per cent reduction in risk, and 4.5 minutes resulted in a 31-32 per cent reduction in risk.
While this study has provided an intriguing window into how we view and use our daily activities, it is critical to recognise its limitations. Because the study was observational in nature, it only recorded outcomes rather than implementing new interventions. It also fails to explain the precise biological mechanisms by which brief bursts of vigorous activity could potentially reduce cancer risk.
This re-evaluation of how we perceive daily activities, no matter how minor or insignificant, is reminiscent of a 2007 published study on the link between mindset and exercise. Despite being active throughout the day, their target audience was hotel housekeepers, who felt they received no exercise at all, a sentiment 67 per cent of them shared.
The researchers divided the housekeepers into two groups: one was informed about the calorie-burning benefits of their daily tasks, while the other was not. The difference in outcomes was startling. Those who were aware of the exercise value of their job saw reductions in body fat, weight, and even blood pressure. They lost an average of 1.3 kg and had lower body fat percentages.
This study demonstrates the potent influence that perception has on our outcomes. Consider this the next time you’re rushing around doing household chores or running errands: it all counts as exercise. If you need me, I’ll be over here trying to figure out how to add ‚domestic tasks‘ or ‚daily activities‘ to my Apple Watch as a recordable workout.