In this article we explain the benefits of physical activity on cardiovascular health and the types of physical activity that may benefit us the most.
Cardiovascular diseases, i.e. those involving all diseases of the heart and circulation, are the leading cause of mortality worldwide. A recent study finds that physical activity can improve cardiovascular health dramatically.
Cardiovascular diseases, i.e. those involving all diseases of the heart and circulation, are the leading cause of mortality worldwide.
In 2021, cardiovascular disease was responsible for one in three deaths (20.5 million), with coronary heart disease alone being the largest single factor in death.
Since 1997, the number of people living with cardiovascular disease worldwide has doubled and is projected to increase further.
In a recent study, researchers analysed data from six studies involving 15,246 people from five countries to see how daytime physical activity behaviour is related to heart health, as measured by six common indicators of cardiometabolic health.
Each participant used a wearable device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the 24-hour period, while their heart health was measured using these cardiometabolic health indicators.
The researchers identified a hierarchy of behaviours that make up a typical 24-hour day, with time spent in moderate to vigorous activity providing the greatest benefit to heart health, followed by light activity, standing and sleeping compared to the negative effects of sedentary behaviour.
The team modelled what would happen if a person swapped various amounts of one behaviour for another every day for a week, in order to assess the effect on heart health for each possible outcome.
When replacing sedentary behaviour, just five minutes of moderate to vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health.
For example, for a 54-year-old woman with an average body mass index of 26.5, a 30-minute change could translate into a reduction in body mass index of 0.64, a difference of 2.4%.
Using the same example, replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting or lying down time with moderate or vigorous exercise could also translate into a 2.5 cm reduction in waist circumference (2.7%) or a 1.33 mmol/mol reduction in HbA1c (3.6%).
Theoretical benefits across all outcomes were observed when just 4-12 minutes/day of any other type of lower intensity activity (sleep, sedentary behaviour, standing, light physical activity) was reallocated to moderate to vigorous physical activity.
In contrast, a higher proportion of sedentary time was found to be negatively associated with all outcomes.
More standing time was favourably associated with several outcomes, while there were inconsistent - and often null - associations for light-intensity physical activity.
The associations between sleep and cardiometabolic biomarkers were complex, with adverse associations when sleep replaced any time of active activity (moderate to vigorous physical activity, light physical activity or standing) and moderate theoretical benefits when it replaced sedentary behaviour.
Overall, these findings suggest that prioritizing more time in moderate to vigorous and less time in sedentary behavior is the most efficient and effective way to improve and/or maintain good cardiometabolic health and thus cardiovascular health.
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- Blodgett JM, Ahmadi MN, Atkin AJ, Chastin S, Chan HW, Suorsa K, Bakker EA, Hettiarcachchi P, Johansson PJ, Sherar LB, Rangul V, Pulsford RM, Mishra G, Eijsvogels TMH, Stenholm S, Hughes AD, Teixeira-Pinto AM, Ekelund U, Lee IM, Holtermann A, Koster A, Stamatakis E, Hamer M; ProPASS Collaboration. Device-measured physical activity and cardiometabolic health: the Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting, and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium. Eur Heart J. 2023 Nov 10:ehad717. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehad717. epub ahead of print. PMID: 37950859.