Any activity is better for your heart than sitting—even sleeping, according to research from University College London and the University of Sydney.

The study, supported by the British Heart Foundation and published in the European Heart Journal, assesses how different movement patterns throughout the 24-hour day are linked to heart health. It is the first evidence to emerge from the international Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting, and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium.

In this study, researchers at University College London analyzed data from six studies, encompassing 15,246 people from five countries, to see how movement behavior across the day is associated with heart health, as measured by six common indicators. Each participant used a wearable device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the 24-hour day and had their heart health measured.

The researchers identified a hierarchy of behaviors that make up a typical 24-hour day, with time spent doing moderate-vigorous activity providing the most benefit to heart health, followed by light activity, standing, and sleeping compared with the adverse impact of sedentary behavior.

“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 personalized recommendations to get people more active in ways that are appropriate for them,” says Mark Hamer, PhD, joint senior author of the study from University College London Surgery and Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, in a release. 

The team modeled what would happen if an individual changed various amounts of one behavior for another each day for a week, in order to estimate the effect on heart health for each scenario. When replacing sedentary behavior, as little as five minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health.

Those who are least active were also found to gain the greatest benefit from changing from sedentary behaviors to more active ones.

Cardiovascular disease, which refers to all diseases of the heart and circulation, is the number one cause of mortality globally. In 2021, it was responsible for one in three deaths, with coronary heart disease alone the single biggest killer. Since 1997, the number of people living with cardiovascular disease across the world has doubled and is projected to rise further.

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