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Every move counts: Even minimal activity can boost heart health

A new study has revealed that any form of movement, even sleeping, is preferable to sitting when it comes to maintaining heart health. 

The research, led by the international Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium, was focused on how different types of physical activity and rest, spread throughout the day, impact cardiovascular wellness.

Focus of the study

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide, claiming one in three lives in 2021. The researchers analyzed data from six studies involving over 15,000 participants from five countries. 

The study marks a significant stride in understanding daily movement behaviors and their correlation with heart health, gauged by six key indicators. Participants wore devices to record their physical activity over the course of a day. 

What the researchers learned 

The results showed that moderate to vigorous activity is the most beneficial to heart health, followed by light activity, standing, and sleeping. By contrast, sedentary behavior was linked to adverse effects.

“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 study first author Dr. Jo Blodgett of University College London

“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.”

Accessible changes 

The study advocates for accessible changes, like using a standing desk, which can be easily integrated into daily routines without additional time commitments. Those with the most sedentary lifestyles stood to gain the most from such changes.

“A key novelty of the ProPASS consortium is the use of wearable devices that better differentiate between types of physical activity and posture, allowing us to estimate the health effects of even subtle variations with greater precision,” said joint senior author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis.

Study significance 

Professor Mark Hamer from UCL pointed out the novelty of analyzing a full 24-hour behavior spectrum, paving the way for personalized activity recommendations.

“Though it may come as no surprise that becoming more active is beneficial for heart health, what’s new in this study is considering a range of behaviors across the whole 24-hour day. This approach will allow us to ultimately provide personalised recommendations to get people more active in ways that are appropriate for them,” said Hamer.

Study implications 

“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. This study shows that replacing even a few minutes of sitting with a few minutes of moderate activity can improve your BMI, cholesterol, waist size, and have many more physical benefits,” said James Leiper from the British Heart Foundation.

“Getting active isn’t always easy, and it’s important to make changes that you can stick to in the long-term and that you enjoy – anything that gets your heart rate up can help. Incorporating ‘activity snacks’ such as walking while taking phone calls, or setting an alarm to get up and do some star jumps every hour is a great way to start building activity into your day, to get you in the habit of living a healthy, active lifestyle.”

The study was supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The findings are published in the European Heart Journal.

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