New research suggests that sleeping is better for you than sitting down, although any activity can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke compared to sitting for long periods. Decent sleep has positive effects on BMI and waist measurements, potentially due to less time for unhealthy behaviors like snacking. However, exercise remains the best way to protect heart health, leading to lower cholesterol levels, a healthier weight, and smaller waistlines. The study, conducted by University College London and the University of Sydney, involved 15,253 people in five countries who wore activity-measuring gadgets for 24 hours a day.
Switching just a few minutes per day from sedentary behavior to moderate or vigorous physical activity can have benefits in all areas. Replacing 30 minutes of sitting with 30 minutes of exercise has the most significant effect on lowering body weight. Even as few as six minutes of sedentary behavior replaced with exercise can improve cholesterol levels. Blood sugar levels are also lower when people spend more time being active rather than sedentary.
The study found that vigorous exercise, such as jogging or tennis, is the most beneficial for health, followed by light exercise like brisk walking or cleaning, and then sleeping or standing. For a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI, replacing 30 minutes of sitting or lying time with exercise can lead to a decrease in waist circumference and a lower BMI. Dr. Jo Blodgett from UCL emphasizes that intensity of movement matters and that replacing sitting with moderate to vigorous activity has the most positive effect on heart health.
Associations between sleep and cardiometabolic health are more complex, with clear benefits for BMI and waist circumference but little effect on blood-based markers. The negative impact of sitting on obesity measures is likely due to related unhealthy behaviors rather than the physiological benefits of sleep itself. The researchers note that even small changes can have an impact on heart health if done consistently, such as using a standing desk or walking during phone calls.
James Leiper from the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, highlights the importance of making sustainable changes to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Replacing a few minutes of sitting with moderate activity can improve BMI, cholesterol, and waist size. Incorporating “activity snacks” like walking during phone calls or doing quick exercises every hour can help build a healthy, active lifestyle.
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