Adults are sedentary for an average of 9½ hours each day, studies have shown — and all that sitting could be putting people’s heart health at risk.
Researchers from the University of College London (UCL) and the University of Sydney found that replacing just a few moments of sitting with any other type of activity — even sleeping or standing — can improve cardiovascular health.
In six separate studies that included over 15,000 people from five countries, participants wore trackers to measure their activity levels and heart health over the course of a typical 24-hour day.
The more vigorous activities correlated to greater heart health benefits, the researchers found.
Even standing and sleeping had better cardiovascular effects than sitting.
When participants swapped out sitting for as little as five minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, there was a tangible positive impact on their heart health.
In one example cited in the study, a 54-year-old woman who replaced 30 minutes of sitting with 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise could see a 2.4% decrease in body mass index (BMI), a 2.7% decrease in waist circumference and a 3.6% decrease in blood glucose levels.
“We do hope this data reaches a broad population and impacts behavior,” said Matthew Saybolt, M.D., medical director of the Structural Heart Disease Program at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Saybolt was not involved in the study but shared his thoughts on the findings with Fox News Digital.
“As cardiologists, we know that regular physical activity compared to a sedentary lifestyle has positive effects on blood pressure, glucose/sugar levels, body fat, cholesterol, sleep patterns and mood,” Saybolt said.
“All of these things are closely linked with the cardiovascular system. We encourage at least mild to moderate exercise and activity daily to all of our stable patients.”
Dr. Jo Blodgett, first author of the study from UCL Surgery & Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, shared the study’s “big takeaway” in a press release from UCL.
The activity doesn’t have to be vigorous to have a positive impact, the researchers noted.
“While small changes to how you move can have a positive effect on heart health, intensity of movement matters,” Blodgett said.
“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 activity doesn’t have to be vigorous to have a positive impact, the researchers noted — but lower-level activities will take longer to elicit a benefit.
People who are generally the most sedentary in their day-to-day lives are likely to get the biggest benefit from swapping out those behaviors for more active ones, the release stated.
The study did have some limitations, the researchers acknowledged.
The findings show an association — yet can’t prove that the activity levels caused the cardiovascular outcomes.
More long-term research is needed to confirm the relationship between higher activity levels and heart health, they stated.
“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,” said Professor Mark Hamer, joint senior author of the study from UCL Surgery & Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, in the press release.
“This approach will allow us to ultimately provide personalized recommendations to get people more active in ways that are appropriate for them,” Hamer also said.
The researchers offered some suggestions for small adjustments to boost cardiovascular health.
“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,” noted James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, in the release.
“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.”