During phone calls, try taking a walk or setting an alarm to go off every hour and jumping up and down. Such simple changes to your daily routine can significantly help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
We probably don’t need to tell you anymore that sitting is bad for you. Numerous studies have already found that sitting for long periods of time can be associated with an increased risk of various health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and back problems. In fact, all forms of activity appear to be more beneficial for your heart than sitting for long periods of time, even sleeping! Researchers therefore advocate that we all get more active. And that really doesn’t mean that you have to work out in the gym five days a week. Watch!
Sitting too much
Figures clearly show that as a society we sit excessively. And that has major consequences. Cardiovascular disease, which includes all diseases of the heart and circulatory system, is the leading cause of death worldwide. In 2021, it was responsible for a third of all deaths (20.5 million), with coronary artery disease alone being the most common fatal cause. Since 1997, the number of people worldwide living with cardiovascular disease has doubled. And this number is expected to increase further.
In a new study, scientists analyzed data from six different studies involving a total of 15,246 participants from five countries. They wanted to understand how exercise behavior during the day is related to heart health. They measured this using six commonly used parameters. Each participant wore a wearable device on his or her thigh that tracked activity levels throughout the day. At the same time, the device closely monitored heart health.
Anything is better than sitting
The findings reveal which behaviors during a typical 24-hour day are most beneficial for heart health. And it appears that moderate to vigorous activity provides the greatest benefits. This is followed by light activity (such as standing and even sleeping). Everything turns out to be better than sitting for long periods of time. Even just five minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise had measurable positive effects on heart health.
Imagine that a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI of 26.5 replaces her daily sitting time of 30 minutes with moderate or vigorous exercise. In such a case you would see a decrease of 0.64 in BMI, which amounts to a difference of 2.4 percent. In addition, this would also result in a 2.5 cm (2.7 percent) reduction in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6 percent) decrease in glycated hemoglobin, which is a measure of blood sugar levels that indicates on diabetes.
“The key message of our research is that while even small changes to your exercise pattern can have a positive impact on heart health, it’s the intensity of exercise that really matters,” says researcher Jo Blodgett. “We found that the most beneficial change occurred when sitting was replaced with moderate to vigorous activity, such as running, brisk walking or climbing stairs. Basically, any activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe faster is good for you, even if it’s just for a minute or two.”
The researchers emphasize that this beneficial effect on heart health only occurs if it becomes a lasting habit. However, it is not easy for everyone to become more active. “It is therefore crucial to only implement those changes that you can sustain in the long term,” emphasizes researcher James Leiper. “Anything that increases your heart rate can help.” According to the researcher, ‘activity snacks’ could offer a solution. “Try walking while talking on the phone or setting an alarm to go off every hour and jumping up and down,” Leiper lists. You can also use a standing desk instead of a sitting desk for a few hours a day. This is a simple adjustment that you can easily incorporate into your work routine and will not require any additional time. “These are great examples of adding more activity to your day,” Leiper said. “This way you gradually get used to a healthy, active lifestyle.”
In short, replacing sitting with just a few minutes of moderate exercise per day noticeably improves heart health. Something that may not be very surprising. “We already knew that regular exercise has significant benefits,” says Leiper. “But this encouraging research confirms that even small changes to your daily routine can reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Replacing even a few minutes of sitting with moderate activity can improve your BMI, cholesterol levels, waist size and many other physical aspects.”