Moving More, Even in Small Amounts, Benefits Heart Health, Including During Sleep

by Mateo Gonzalez
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Research from the University of Sydney and UCL reveals that replacing a few minutes of sitting each day with moderate exercise significantly improves heart health. This study, involving over 15,000 participants, highlights that even minor adjustments in daily activities can offer major health benefits, underscoring the necessity of integrating physical activity into daily routines.

Investigating the Relationship Between Daily Movement Patterns and Heart Health

Recent findings from the University of Sydney and UCL indicate that substituting just a few minutes of sitting with moderate exercise daily can noticeably enhance heart health.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal and supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), is the first to examine the correlation between various movement patterns throughout a 24-hour period and heart health.

This research is also the initial outcome from the Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium, led by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre. The consortium’s goal is to produce insights for future guidelines and policy-making.

Global Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease, encompassing heart and circulatory conditions, remains the top cause of global mortality. In 2021, it was responsible for one in three deaths (20.5 million), with coronary heart disease as the primary contributor. The incidence of cardiovascular diseases has doubled since 1997 and is projected to continue its upward trend.

Study Methodology

The study examined data from 15,246 participants across five nations, employing wearable devices to monitor daily movements and evaluate heart health using six common indicators. It established a hierarchy of daily behaviors, ranking moderate to vigorous activity as most beneficial for heart health. Light activities, standing, and sleeping also positively contribute, contrasting with the harmful effects of sedentary behavior.

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis emphasizes the importance of long-term adherence to movement over static postures for improved heart health.

Key Findings and Their Implications

The research modeled various daily behavior changes over a week to estimate their impact on heart health. It found that even five minutes of moderate to vigorous activity in place of sedentary behavior can significantly affect heart health.

For instance, a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI of 26.5 could see a 0.64 decrease in BMI (2.4%) by substituting 30 minutes of sitting with moderate or vigorous physical activity daily. This change could also lead to a 2.5 cm (2.7%) reduction in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6%) decrease in glycated hemoglobin.

Incorporating Movement into Daily Life

Dr. Jo Blodgett from UCL’s Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health highlights that while all movement changes benefit heart health, the intensity of the activity is crucial. The most positive change observed was replacing sitting with moderate to vigorous activity.

Professor Stamatakis adds that such replacements need to become long-term habits to improve heart health. He also notes that the wearables field is offering exciting new prospects for health research.

The researchers acknowledge that while vigorous activities quickly improve heart health, all ability levels can benefit, though less intense activities require longer durations to show significant benefits.

Future Research and Personalized Activity Recommendations

Professor Mark Hamer from UCL’s Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health points out the uniqueness of this study in considering a range of behaviors across the entire day. This approach will enable personalized activity recommendations suitable for different individuals.

James Leiper from the British Heart Foundation remarks on the study’s demonstration that even small daily routine adjustments can reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes. He suggests integrating “activity snacks” like walking during phone calls or doing star jumps hourly as a way to build activity into daily life.

Reference: “Device-measured physical activity and cardiometabolic health: the Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting, and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium” by Joanna M Blodgett, et al., 10 November 2023, European Heart Journal. DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehad717.

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