Regular physical activity reduces the risk of several illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. However, for people who are unable to do regular exercise, even four minutes of intense physical activity daily could help cut down cancer risk, a new study has found.

The latest study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, suggests that vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA) can reduce the risk of cancer by up to 32%.

VILPA refers to brief bouts of strenuous movement performed as part of daily living, which includes intense housework or power walks.

"The findings of this large cohort study suggest that 3 to 4 minutes of VILPA per day may be associated with decreased cancer incidence risk; thus, VILPA may be a promising intervention for cancer prevention among individuals unable or unmotivated to exercise in leisure time," the researchers wrote in the study, published in the Journal Jama Oncology.

The team evaluated the daily activity of around 22,000 people who did not do any regular exercise. Wearable devices were used to monitor their activity. The team then followed up on their health records for up to seven years and found 2,356 new cancer cases during the period.

The participants who completed four to five minutes of VILPA had a reduced risk of developing cancer compared to those who did not do any vigorous activity.

"We know the majority of middle-aged people don't regularly exercise which puts them at increased cancer risk but it is only through the advent of wearable technology like activity trackers that we are able to look at the impact of short bursts of incidental physical activity done as part of daily living," lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis said.

"It is 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 explained.

VILPA helps in cardio-respiratory fitness, reduces inflammation and improves insulin sensitivity. The researchers believe this may be the possible explanation for the reduced risk of cancer.

"We need to further investigate this link through robust trials, but it appears that VILPA may be a promising cost-free recommendation for lowering cancer risk in people who find structured exercise difficult or unappealing," Stamatakisa added.