Research suggests replacing sitting with just a few minutes of moderate exercise each day significantly improves heart health. 

A new study, supported by the British Heart Foundation and National Health and Medical Research Council, is the first to assess how various movement patterns throughout the day impact heart health.

Cardiovascular disease, the leading global cause of mortality, affects one in three individuals, with coronary heart disease being the primary culprit. 

The study analysed data from 15,246 participants across six studies in five countries, using wearable devices to measure activity and assess heart health.

The research establishes a hierarchy of behaviours within a 24-hour day, highlighting the substantial benefits of moderate to vigorous activity over sedentary behaviour. 

Even as little as five minutes of such activity demonstrated a noticeable improvement in heart 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,” says Dr Jo Blodgett, the study's first author.

The study also modelled the effects of behaviour changes on heart health. For a 54-year-old woman, a 30-minute shift from sitting to moderate or vigorous physical activity resulted in a 0.64 decrease in BMI, a 2.7 per cent decrease in waist circumference, and a 3.6 per cent decrease in glycated haemoglobin.

While vigorous activity provides the quickest heart health improvement, even lower-intensity activities, like using a standing desk, can yield benefits over time. 

The researchers stress that turning these changes into long-term habits is crucial for sustained improvement.

Wearable devices were used for precise health effect estimations, but the findings do not establish causality, prompting the need for further long-term studies to explore the link between movement and cardiovascular outcomes.

The full study is accessible here.