Can cleaning really cut the risk of cancer? 

A new study suggests that daily activities such as carrying shopping or cleaning done in short, vigorous burst of up to one minute, could cut the risk of developing certain cancers.

A new study has found that short bursts of daily activity could reduce the risk of developing some cancers. As little as four or five minutes of “vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity”, or VILPA for short, could benefit health – and the overall time spent doing these activities could be broken up into short bursts of a minute at a time.  

We know that an active lifestyle is good for us and can help maintain our health and mobility as we age. We also know that a sedentary lifestyle (in other words, not moving much) can lead to many chronic health problems. Although there’s still research to be done in this area, it’s encouraging to know that even a moderate amount of movement can potentially reduce the risk of certain cancers, and best of all, you don’t need a major life overhaul or a fancy gym membership to do it.  

Man cleaning windowsCredit: Shutterstock / Budimir Jevtic

What the study says

The study was carried out by Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney and published in JAMA Oncology. Using wearable trackers, they followed over 22,000 non-exercising adults for seven years to gain insight into their daily movements. Their health records were also monitored throughout this time. The average age of participants was 62.  

They found that less than five minutes VILPA resulted in a lower risk of certain cancers compared with those who took part in no VILPA.  

Stamatakis says that adults who don’t exercise at all are at increased risk of developing breast, endometrial (womb) or colon (bowel) cancers.

“It’s quite remarkable to see that upping the intensity of daily tasks for as little as four to five minutes a day, done in short bursts of around one 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,” Stamatakis said.  


What is VILPA?

Vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity is a fancy way of describing things we do in daily life. You might have heard it referred to asactivities of daily living, and it’s a good way to get more movement into each day. This includes:

  • Taking the stairs 
  • Walking to the bus stop 
  • Carrying heavy shopping or children  
  • Vigorous housework or gardening 
  • A brisk walk to the shops 

 Stamatakis says: “VILPA is a bit like applying the principles of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your everyday life,” meaning whatever activity you are doing, you need to attack it with gusto for that minute or however long it takes.  

HIIT is a form of cardio exercise that involves maximum effort for short intervals, followed by a period of recovery before doing it again. For these short bursts of VILPA to be effective, your heart rate should be raised while doing them.  

How to incorporate more VILPA

The good news is that adding more VILPA into daily life doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or time-consuming. It’s all about looking for opportunities to move rather than sitting around. For example, do you help carry the shopping in from the car, or do you make a cup of tea while your significant other does it?  

Other things you could try to include:

  • putting your favourite upbeat music on to clean the house. 
  • taking items upstairs right away, instead of building a small pile then taking them all up.  
  • taking items out to the recycling right away 
  • parking further away at the supermarket. 

Think of adding an element of briskness to whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re cleaning, for example, put some vigour into the dusting. And when it comes to carrying heavy shopping, keep in mind you can also reap the benefits of strength training at the same time. All these activities can be interspersed throughout the day and shouldn’t change your day-to-day life too much.  

Lady stretching her arms at homeCredit: Shutterstock /

Another possibility – and one of my personal favourites – is to do little bursts of exercise whenever you can. James Staring, lead trainer at Fit to Last, has some great ideas for fitting exercise in morning, noon and night:  

  • Waking up: Each morning when you wake up, lie face down on the floor, stand up, then lie back down again in the starting position. Repeat 10 times.  
  • Tea breaks: Each time you make a cuppa, complete 20 bodyweight squats while the kettle’s boiling. Keep your back as straight as possible, look forward (not down) and squat as low as you can comfortably go, keeping your knees pointing forward, then stand up and repeat.  
  • Main meals: Before you eat each main meal (including breakfast), complete 30 jumping jacks. (You can do stepping jacks if jumping isn’t possible.)  
  • Before you go to bed: Avoid vigorous activity instead do some stretches to increase flexibility and help you wind down from all that movement during the day. You’ll sleep better and be ready to repeat those exercises the next day. 

It’s never too late to get more active

Once you’re used to building more activity into daily life, you might want to begin exercising regularly. NHS guidelines recommend 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) of physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. People with higher levels of physical activity have a lower mortality risk, and there is overwhelming proof that being active and social is good for your health 

If you’ve not exercised before, or have slipped into a more sedentary lifestyle, it’s never too late to do something about it and the best news is, you’ll be able to enjoy the health benefits of exercise no matter your age.  

Staring says the key to getting started is to pick something you enjoy:  

“I’ve often heard people tell me, ‘I need to start running.’ When I ask them if they enjoy running, the reply is often, ‘No, actually I can’t stand it.’ 

“When you are starting to exercise, don’t fall into the trap of starting something solely because you’ve heard you should do it. Start with activities you like doing the most. 

“If walking is an activity you enjoy, start with that. If you’re a fan of beach holidays, perhaps swimming is a good choice. By starting with something you enjoy, you’re on your way to a habit you can maintain.” 

Top tips for exercising

Staring has the following tips to help you stick to your new habits: 

  • Build on small wins – a 10-minute walk is better than no walk at all. Start with that and go from there.  
  • Block dates and times you can exercise into your calendar.  
  • Set yourself small benchmarks and reward yourself when you reach them.  
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.  
Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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