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Literally Anything Is Better Than This Bad Health Habit, Study Says

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Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.

Image by Zhph Production / Stocksy

It’s no secret that getting enough physical activity is essential to our overall health, but we need to talk about the opposite of physical activity: sedentary behavior. Namely, according to new research published in the European Heart Journal, this all too common lifestyle habit is having detrimental effects on our health. Here’s what to know.

Studying movement, sedentary time, and heart health

For this study, researchers wanted to assess the impact of physical activity versus sedentary behavior on cardiometabolic health and cardiovascular disease (aka any diseases of the heart and/or circulation).

They looked at data from six studies, which included over 15,000 people from five different countries. Participants in these studies had been using wearable activity monitors to gather data on their physical activity, as well as had their heart health metrics taken.

In looking at these data, the researchers discovered an interesting trend: Not only did more moderate-to-vigorous activity benefit heart health, but even sleeping was better for heart health than sedentary behavior.

The researchers also used a model to assess what would happen if people changed their activity levels to be more active and less sedentary and discovered even just five minutes of physical activity a day can benefit heart health.

For example, if a 54-year-old woman with a BMI of 26.5 swapped 30 minutes of sedentary time for 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, she could see a 2.4% reduction in BMI, a decrease in waist circumference, and better blood sugar control.

The findings also suggest that people who are the least active will reap the most benefits from changing sedentary time to active time.

As study co-author James Leiper, Ph.D., explains in a news release, “We already know that exercise can have real benefits for your cardiovascular health, and this encouraging research shows [that] replacing even a few minutes of sitting with a few minutes of moderate activity can improve your BMI, cholesterol, waist size, and have many more physical benefits.”

What to do about it

The findings of this study should come as good news to anyone looking to improve their heart health—or decrease their sedentary time.

The study authors note that when it comes to intensity, vigorous activity is better if you’re short on time. If you have the time for a long stroll through your neighborhood or even opting for a standing desk a few hours out of your workday, that works too.

“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,” study co-author Jo Blodgett, Ph.D., explains, adding, “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.”

The takeaway

Sometimes we can’t escape sedentary behavior if we work at a desk or have a long commute, but these findings suggest small movement swaps can go a long way. The point is, if you want to mind your heart health and well-being for the long run, the less you’re sedentary, the better.

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