13 November 2023

Replacing sitting with as little as a few minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day tangibly improves heart health, according to a large-scale international collaborative research project in which Esmée Bakker and Thijs Eijsvogels of the PreventionHub and department of Medical BioSciences were involved. 

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

In this study, the researchers analysed data from six cohort studies (including the Nijmegen Exercise Study), encompassing 15,246 people from five countries, to see how movement behaviour across the day is associated with cardiometabolic health status. Each participant used a wearable device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the 24-hour day and had their cardiovascular health measured. 

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

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 cardiovascular health for each scenario. When replacing sedentary behaviour, as little as five minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on cardiometabolic health outcomes. 

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%. Replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting or lying time with moderate or vigorous exercise could also translate into a 2.5 cm (2.7%) decrease in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6%) decrease in glycated haemoglobin. 

These data indicate that small lifestyle changes can substantially improve cardiometabolic health outcomes. The full paper has open access availability and can be accessed here.

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