Anything is Better than Nothing

Imagine this all too common scenario: you wake up, you’re tired, you aren’t motivated, and you know you have a long day at the office ahead of you. So maybe you think, “There is no point in working out this morning. There’s no way it would be a good workout.” Objectively, you know that’s not true. Anything is better than nothing, right? Well, when it comes to your cardiovascular health, the answer is absolutely yes. And it might not take as much as you think. 

A study at University College London, supported by the British Heart Foundation, set out to prove just that- any moderate to vigorous activity made a difference in heart health. Specifically, they wanted to know just how little activity could start making a difference, and honestly, the results are shocking. For instance, replacing even just a few minutes of sitting with a few minutes of standing makes a difference. Or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Or taking a few laps around the office. James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, states: “We already know that exercise can have real benefits for your cardiovascular health and this encouraging research shows that small adjustments to your daily routine could lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. This study 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.”

Want to reap even more benefits? In addition to simply standing for a few minutes when you usually sit, you can add just a few minutes of activity to your day. As little as 5 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day was found to have a noticeable effect on heart health. A brisk walk counts. Dancing counts. Vacuuming counts. Five minutes! That “less productive than normal” workout doesn’t seem like a waste now, does it?

Obviously, the more activity, the better. The same study noted that individuals who performed longer stints of moderate to vigorous activity saw the most benefit. Light exercise also improves cardiovascular health for individuals, especially when added to an existing routine. However, in sedentary individuals, adding any activity helps. We mean any activity. Even sleeping was better for you than sitting at a desk all day. Sitting all day is, basically, killing us. 

Dr. Jo Blodgett, the first author of the study from UCL Surgery & Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, has this to say: “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. 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.”

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of mortality globally. It is responsible for one-third of all deaths (coronary disease being the most significant threat). Without making any major changes to your routine, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease in just a few minutes a day. Plus, once you get used to adding in little spurts of exercise, you’ll notice that you’re more motivated for other things!