TUESDAY, Nov. 14, 2023 (Healthday News) — There is nothing worse for your heart than sitting, a new study confirms.

“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, a research fellow with University College London’s Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health.

“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,” Blodgett added in a university news release.

However, even standing and sleeping beat sitting when it came to heart health, the study found.

Heart disease is the leading cause of mortality worldwide. In 2021, it was responsible for one in three deaths, and the number of people living with heart disease across the world has doubled since 1997, the researchers said.

“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,” said James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research. “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.”

In the report, UCL researchers culled data from six studies involving just over 15,000 people from five countries. The idea was to see how movement behavior across a 24-hour day is linked to heart health, as measured by six common indicators. Each participant used a wearable device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the day and had their heart health assessed.

The researchers created a hierarchy of daily behaviors, with time spent doing moderate-vigorous activity providing the most benefit to heart health, followed by light activity, including standing and sleeping. Sitting came in last.

When replacing sitting, just five minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health. Those who were the least active saw the biggest benefit from changing from sedentary behaviors to more active ones.

The findings were published Nov. 10 in the European Heart Journal.

“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,” Leiper said. “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.”

More information

Visit Johns Hopkins for more on sitting and heart health.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Nov. 8, 2023