Sitting less and moving more improves heart health

A recent study has found that replacing sitting with even a few minutes of moderate exercise each day can improve heart health. The research, conducted by experts at UCL and published in the European Heart Journal, is the first of its kind to examine how different movement patterns throughout the day are linked to heart health.

The study highlights the importance of reducing sedentary behaviour and increasing physical activity for better heart health. Encouragingly, incorporating even a few minutes of moderate exercise into daily routines can have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.

Cardiovascular disease, which affects the heart and circulation, is the leading cause of death worldwide. The study, which analyzed data from over 15,000 participants across five countries, aimed to understand how movement behaviors impact heart health.

The findings indicate that engaging in moderate-vigorous activity, such as running, brisk walking, or climbing stairs, provides the most significant benefits to heart health. Even just five minutes of such activity can have a noticeable effect. The study also revealed that replacing sedentary behavior with moderate exercise resulted in improvements in body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels, and waist circumference.

Dr. Jo Blodgett, the lead author of the study, highlighted the importance of intensity in movement. He stated, “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.”

The researchers emphasised that people of all abilities can benefit from increasing their activity levels. For example, using a standing desk instead of a sitting desk for a few hours a day can make a difference over time. The study also found that those who were least active experienced the greatest benefits from replacing sedentary behaviors with more active ones.

While the study cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship between movement behaviors and cardiovascular outcomes, it adds to the growing body of evidence linking moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout the day with improved heart health. The researchers believe that personalized recommendations tailored to individual preferences and abilities will be crucial in promoting physical activity.

James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, emphasised the significance of the findings and encouraged small adjustments to daily routines. He suggested incorporating “activity snacks,” such as walking while taking phone calls or engaging in short bursts of exercise every hour, to develop a healthier and more active lifestyle.