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A ground-breaking study sponsored by the British Heart Foundation and conducted by dedicated ISEH and UCL researchers from our partnering organisation (University College London), has unveiled the pivotal impact of making small alterations in daily activity on heart health. This was a collaborative study conducted in partnership with the University of Sydney. Led by ISEH’s Dr Jo Blodgett, and published in the European Heart Journal, this comprehensive research explores the connection between different movement patterns across a 24-hour day and its influence on cardiovascular health.

The study, involving an international team of researchers, analysed data from six studies involving 15,246 participants across five countries to see how movement behaviour across the day is associated with heart health. Each participant used a wearable device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the 24-hour day and had measures of obesity and blood-based biomarkers measured.

Their findings highlighted a clear hierarchy of behaviours affecting heart health, with moderate-vigorous activity offering the most substantial benefits, followed by light activity, standing, and even sleeping, compared to the harmful effects of sedentary behaviour.

What is significant is that the study revealed replacing as little as a few minutes of sedentary behaviour with moderate-vigorous activity showed measurable improvements in heart health. For example, for a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI of 26.5, four to eight minutes change translated to a noticeable decrease in BMI, a reduction in waist circumference, and a drop in glycated haemoglobin.

Dr Jo Blodgett from UCL emphasised, “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”.

Professor Mark Hamer, joint senior author of the study from UCL (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. Read the full study, in the European Heart Journal.