Quick bursts of activity tied to reduced cancer risks in people who don't exercise

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By , Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

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If you've been meaning to start an exercise regimen but you can't find the motivation to get going, consider this: a study published September 2023 in JAMA Oncology found that just a few minutes of intense daily activity, like house cleaning or stair climbing, is linked to significantly lower cancer risks among people who don't exercise. Scientists evaluated the health data of more than 22,000 cancer-free "non-exercisers" (average age 62) who wore activity trackers for about a week and were then followed for about seven years. People who racked up three-and-a-half minutes of vigorous activity per day, accrued in one-minute bouts, had an 18% reduction in their risk of developing cancer during the study period, compared with people who didn't do any vigorous activity. Doing four-and-a-half minutes of vigorous activity per day was associated with a 32% risk reduction. The findings are observational and don't prove definitively that short bursts of activity prevent cancer. But we already know that more substantial amounts of exercise are associated with lower risks of many types of cancer. So pour on the steam a few times a day. It may even inspire you to start exercising regularly.

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About the Author

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Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Heidi Godman is the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter. Before coming to the Health Letter, she was an award-winning television news anchor and medical reporter for 25 years. Heidi was named a journalism fellow … See Full Bio
View all posts by Heidi Godman

About the Reviewer

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Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter

Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff is the Steven P. Simcox/Patrick A. Clifford/James H. Higby Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and editor in chief of the Harvard … See Full Bio
View all posts by Anthony L. Komaroff, MD


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