Want a Healthier Heart? Ask: How Often Should I Move?

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking” quite a bit. Although it might slightly sensationalise the issue, it holds some truth. In reality, any level of movement surpasses the absence of it, and, for most people, increasing their physical activity yields better results.

A recent study, conducted by scientists at Columbia University, unveiled an uncomplicated yet efficient approach to enhancing heart health: “exercise snacks.” These consist of brief bursts of physical activity, such as five minutes of walking every half hour. The researchers discovered that integrating these “exercise snacks” into your daily routine can substantially reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic ailments.

But before you assume it’s a miraculous solution, let’s delve into the study’s intricacies to better comprehend the researchers’ findings.


Our contemporary sedentary lifestyles, characterised by prolonged hours at desks or in front of screens, have been correlated with cardiovascular diseases and elevated mortality rates. Although studies have underscored the advantages of taking breaks from sitting, the precise frequency and duration of these breaks remain ambiguous.

The World Health Organization’s 2020 Physical Activity Guidelines acknowledged the need to clarify this matter to facilitate the inclusion of more physical activity into people’s everyday lives. Columbia University’s researchers embarked on this mission.

The Study

The study encompassed eleven adults aged 45 and older, mandated to spend eight hours seated in ergonomic chairs over five separate days. Consequently, they were only permitted to stand up for bathroom breaks or scheduled “exercise snacks.”

Throughout the study, participants underwent various conditions, randomly allocated, with a minimum of four days between each:

    • Continuous sitting (the control group)
    • Light-intensity walking every 30 minutes for 1 minute.
    • Light-intensity walking every 30 minutes for 5 minutes
    • Light-intensity walking every 60 minutes for 1 minute
    • Light-intensity walking every 60 minutes for 5 minutes

The walking sessions transpired on a treadmill, set to a leisurely pace of 2.0 mph, equivalent to a very slow stroll. The researchers gauged vital cardiovascular health indicators, encompassing blood sugar and blood pressure, fatigue, mood, and cognitive performance.

Study Findings

In comparison to continuous sitting for eight hours, blood sugar levels substantially decreased when participants engaged in the “every 30 minutes for 5 minutes” exercise snack. Intriguingly, none of the other exercise patterns resulted in a significant reduction in blood sugar.

Regarding blood pressure, all forms of exercise snacks led to a statistically significant drop in systolic measurements compared to uninterrupted sitting. The most pronounced reductions in systolic blood pressure were evident in the “every 60 minutes for 1 minute” exercise snack (-5.2 mmHg) and the “every 30 minutes for 5 minutes” exercise snack (-4.3 mmHg).

Fatigue levels diminished with all exercise snacks, except for the “every 60 minutes for 1 minute” break. The most considerable reductions in fatigue were reported after the “every 30 minutes for 5 minutes” and “every 60 minutes for 5 minutes” exercise snacks.

In summary, introducing a 5-minute walking break every 30 minutes appeared to be the most effective in enhancing various health markers. Nonetheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that this study featured a limited sample size; thus, its findings offer valuable insights but remain inconclusive.

Key Takeaways:

  • Blood Pressure Benefits: The study’s outcomes imply that these exercise snacks could substantially influence blood pressure. This holds significance as aerobic exercise is frequently recommended as an initial hypertension treatment.
  • Prioritise Movement: Importantly, any form of movement surpasses prolonged sitting. Many individuals may underestimate the extent of their daily sedentary routines. Therefore, we recommend tracking activity levels for a week, either manually or with a fitness tracker, to heighten awareness and stimulate increased activity.

In summary, integrating short, regular bursts of movement into your daily schedule can be a pragmatic and effective approach to enhancing heart health and overall well-being. Remember, progress matters more than perfection.




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