5 science-backed exercises we’re snacking on to reduce cancer risk

As the weather warms up, it’s the perfect time to spring clean your exercise routine and move your body more. It is recommended that we do at least 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity per week for good health – but that doesn’t have to mean signing up for a marathon of hitting the gym 3 times a week.  

There’s growing evidence that even short bursts of exercise or ‘exercise snacks’ could be good for your fitness and overall health.  

New research, led by the University of Sydney, linked short bursts of activity with a lower risk of developing cancer.   

“It’s quite remarkable to see that upping the intensity of daily tasks, for as little as 4 to 5 minutes a day, done in short bursts of around 1 minute each, is linked to an overall reduction in cancer risk by up to 18%, and up to 32% for cancer types linked to physical activity,” said Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, lead author, University of Sydney.

This included bowel, breast and lung cancer, which are known to be associated with reduced physical activity.  

Prof Stamatakis’s team named this type of exercise Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity, or VILPA for short, and likened it to ‘applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life’. 

Recently, researchers at Australia's Deakin University also found short bursts of strength training at home could help maintain movement and quality of life as you get older.  

These new studies reinforce the health and lifestyle benefits we can learn from the world’s longest-lived populations.  

Those living in the world’s Blue Zones have been exercise snacking for years. It’s only now that the rest of us are catching on to the beauty of this simple, yet beneficial approach to living.  

The people of the 5 Blue Zones - Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica ensure they move their body every 20 minutes or so, integrating movement into their day. For them it’s simple because physical activities are a part of life.  

In Ikaria, for example, just moving about the house can get the heart pumping. Here, homes are built into the hillside and stairs are simply part of a home’s design. And gardening and home-farming is as natural as breathing for those living in Okinawa, requiring time spent each day tending to their crops with digging, weeding, sowing and harvesting are all part and parcel.  

Get outside for some ‘green’ exercise 

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from these longest-lived populations is that if we want to incorporate exercise into our daily lives to live healthier we can do it without all the bells and whistles — and quite often outside in the fresh air and sunshine. In fact, for people living in Blue Zones, spending time in nature is a key part of their life philosophy. 

We already know spending more time outside than in is good for our health. And now science is telling us exercising in the great outdoors amplifies the benefits.  

Coined ‘green’ exercise, some research shows physical activity done outside may actually feel less difficult. It’s also better for our mental health too, restoring mental fatigue, reducing stress, and boosting our mood. The trees and plants are on our side too, emitting substances known as phytoncides (essential oils), which studies show can help support our immune system and anti-cancer cells. 

5 exercise snacks to stay healthy and happy 

  • Take the stairs - Have the choice between stairs and an elevator when you arrive at work? Choose the stairs for an exercise snack straight off the bat. Taking the stairs will burn way more calories than fixing your hair in the mirror while you stand in an elevator on the way up to the office. And because your heart will be pumping when you walk in the door your body will be flooded with endorphins, so your mood will be boosted as well! 
  • Walk the dog - Like us, dogs don’t like to sit still for too long. Let your pooch be your excuse to get up off the couch for a hit of fresh air and feel-good vibes alongside your exercise. Research shows walking every day can be more beneficial than people think, warding off heart disease and stroke. And if your pup picks up the pace in excitement on the way to the park, join in on the enthusiasm. The more quickly you walk the better the health benefits.  
  • Vacuum the house - Household chores are the quintessential incidental exercise. They need to be done and if we do them with gusto, keeping in mind the activity is helping to boost overall health as well as keep the house sparkling, the benefits will be two-fold.  
  • Dance while you cook - Whether you like to bake or only cook to eat, adding some tunes into the mix will get your foot tapping and your heart pumping. Make it something upbeat and groove to the music while you flit around the kitchen making your meal. Dancing while you cook will up the vibe, release endorphins, and burn more calories.  
  • Plant a veggie patch - Take a leaf out of the Blue Zone book and make growing your own food part of your approach to living well. Whether you live on acreage or have a tiny courtyard out the back, there’s likely a place for a veggie patch in your home (or windowsill). Gardening not only helps to keep you active, with all that digging, planting, and harvesting but it works wonders for your mental health too. Plus, time spent in the sunshine provides a hit of vitamin D.