Any activity – even sleeping – is better for your heart than sitting

Replacing sitting with as little as a few minutes of moderate exercise a day can improve heart health, according to new research from University College London and the University of Sydney.

“We already know that exercise can have real benefits for your cardiovascular health and this encouraging research shows that small adjustments to your daily routine could lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke,” James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said in a news release. “This study shows that replacing even a few minutes of sitting with a few minutes of moderate activity can improve your BMI [body mass index], cholesterol, waist size, and have many more physical benefits.”

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the European Heart Journal, is the first to assess how different movement patterns during daily activities are linked to heart health.

The researchers analyzed data from six studies of more than 15,000 participants from five countries to see how movement behavior across the day is associated with hearth health. The participants wore  wore a device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the day.
They found that moderate-to-vigorous activity provided the most benefit to heart health, followed by light activity, standing and sleeping, compared to sitting still (sedentary behavior).
Replacing sedentary behavior with as little as five minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health, the stuidy found.
“The big takeaway from our research is that while small changes to how you move can have a positive effect on heart health, intensity of movement matters,” said Dr. Jo Blodgett, first author of the study. “The most beneficial change we observed was replacing sitting with moderate to vigorous activity – which could be a run, a brisk walk, or stair climbing – basically any activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, even for a minute or two.”
Further, the researchers note that those who are least active were also found to gain the greatest benefit from changing from sedentary behaviors to more active ones.
They also noted several suggestions, such as using a standing desk for a few hours a day instead of a sitting desk.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Kentucky, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cardiovascular disease, which refers to all diseases of the heart and circulation, is the number one cause of mortality globally,” the news release said. “In 2021, it was responsible for one in three deaths, with coronary heart disease alone the single biggest killer. Since 1997, the number of people living with cardiovascular disease across the world has doubled and is projected to rise further.”
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