A study published today is the first to assess how different movement patterns throughout the 24-hour day is linked to heart health.
The researchers identified a hierarchy of behaviours that make up a typical 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 behaviour.
Led by UCL and the University of Sydney, the study provides the first evidence to emerge from the international Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium.
Dr Andrew Atkin, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: “Cardiovascular disease, which refers to all diseases of the heart and circulation, is the number one cause of mortality globally.
“We wanted to better understand how people’s movement patterns influence their heart health.
“We found that how we split our time across postures – for example standing versus sitting - and intensities of movement – such as vigorous versus more gentle activity - may impact various markers of heart health.
“The good news is that even quite small shifts in time away from sitting into moderate or vigorous activity appears to be beneficial.”
The international research team analysed data from six studies, encompassing 15,246 people from five countries, to see how movement behaviour 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 team modelled what would happen if an individual changed various amounts of one behaviour for another each day for a week, in order to estimate the effect on heart health for each scenario. When replacing sedentary behaviour, as little as five minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health.
For a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI of 26.5, for example, a 30-minute change translated into a 0.64 decrease in BMI, which is a difference of 2.4 per cent.
Replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting or lying time with moderate or vigorous exercise could also translate into a 2.5 cm (2.7 per cent) decrease in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6 per cent) decrease in glycated haemoglobin.
Dr Jo Blodgett, first author of the study from UCL’s Institute of Sport and Exercise Health, said: “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.
“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 only.”
The researchers pointed out that although time spent doing vigorous activity was the quickest way to improve heart health, there are ways to benefit for people of all abilities – it’s just that the time required to start having a tangible benefit would be longer the lower the intensity of the activity.
Using a standing desk for a few hours a day instead of a sitting desk, for example, is a change over a relatively large amount of time but is also one that could be integrated into a working routine fairly easily as it does not require any time commitment.
Those who are least active were also found to gain the greatest benefit from changing from sedentary behaviours to more active ones.
Though the findings cannot infer causality between movement behaviours and cardiovascular outcomes, they contribute to a growing body of 24-hour evidence linking moderate to vigorous physical activity with improved body fat metrics. Further long-term studies will be crucial to better understanding the associations between movement and cardiovascular outcomes.
Prof Mark Hamer, joint senior author of the study from UCL’s Institute of Sport and Exercise Health, said: “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 behaviours across the whole 24-hour day. This approach will allow us to ultimately provide personalised recommendations to get people more active in ways that are appropriate for them.”
This research was funded by the British Heart Foundation.
‘Device-measured physical activity and cardiometabolic health: the Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting, and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium’ is published in European Heart Journal.
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