Swapping meat for plant-based foods may lower diabetes and heart disease ris


Can going plant-based help slash metabolic and cardiovascular risk?

  • Analyzing over 30 studies, German researchers found that swapping meats for plant-based alternatives may drastically reduce risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality.
  • Evidence showed that replacing 50 grams (1.8 ounces) of processed meat with plant-based foods on a daily basis lowered cardiovascular disease risk by 25%.
  • Substituting processed meats was associated with a 21% lower risk of death from any cause.

The Western diet is replete with red and processed meats and other animal products. Experts worry that this eating pattern strains natural resources, triggers negative climate change, and contributes to an array of noncommunicable diseases.

The environmental and health burdens associated with the Western diet are increasingly supporting the case for promoting plant-based dietary alternatives.

Some studies have suggested that plant-based foods may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and overall mortality.

So far, however, research has not considered the full cardiometabolic implications of switching out meats for plants in a systematic review and meta-analysis.

To address this deficit, researchers from institutions in Germany collaborated on a paper exploring the topic. Their systematic review and meta-analysis article was published in BMC MedicineTrusted Source.

“Our findings indicate that a shift from animal-based (e.g., red and processed meat, eggs, dairy, poultry, butter) to plant-based (e.g., nuts, legumes, whole grains, olive oil) foods is beneficially associated with cardiometabolic health and all-cause mortality,” the authors reported.

First review of its kind

The research team ran a systematic literature search on MEDLINE, Embase, and Web of Science.

They included studies that used substitution analyses of animal-based food with plant-based foods. The studies consulted also discussed health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality.

Furthermore, the studies were prospective observational studies conducted among the general healthy population.

Each study underwent a risk of bias assessment with the Risk of Bias in Non-Randomized Studies of Interventions (ROBINS-I)Trusted Source tool. The team evaluated the certainty of evidence for each association using the Grading of Recommendation, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations (GRADE)Trusted Source protocol.

The research team narrowed their search down from 1,216 to 32 studies for final inclusion in their analyses. Hand searching yielded another five studies, for a total of 37 meta-analyses.

According to the authors, their work “is the first systematic review and meta-analysis that summarized the associations between the substitution of animal-based with plant-based foods with a wide range of cardiometabolic outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease mortality; incidence of [cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and type 2 diabetes]; diabetes mortality, and all-cause mortality.”

Swapping animal- for plant-based foods for health

The researchers observed a “moderate certainty of evidence” that replacing one daily egg with nuts correlated with lower cardiovascular disease mortality. Substituting butter with olive oil yielded similar results.

Switching 50 grams (g) of processed meat with 28 g of nuts daily was associated with a lower coronary heart disease incidence. Replacing poultry or seafood with nuts or legumes was not.

There was only a low certainty of evidence for associations of reduced coronary heart disease risk with replacing red meat with nuts or legumes.

Replacing butter with olive oil, red meat with nuts, or one egg daily with nuts, was inversely associated with type 2 diabetes frequency, the researchers also found.

Finally, the research team noticed a moderate certainty of evidence for a lower risk of all-cause mortality when switching red meat with nuts or whole grains. Replacing processed meat with nuts or legumes, or unprocessed red meat with nuts also reduced this risk.

Substituting dairy or one egg daily with nuts or legumes, or butter with olive oil, was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.

These findings agree with a prior review suggesting that replacing red meat with plant-based foods lowered the risk of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.

This work also supports other studies tying higher meat consumption with coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality.

Review highlights ‘vital’ role of plant-based foods in health

The present study was the first meta-analysis of its kind. Validated food frequency questionnaires were used to collect dietary information. The mean follow-up duration among the cohorts was 19 years.

Most of the studies included males and females, with a few gender-specific exceptions.

Medical News Today discussed this study with Eva De Angelis, a registered dietitian nutritionist. She was not involved in the research.

De Angelis considered the investigation “quite a fascinating systematic review that further highlights the vital role plant foods can have on our overall health, and how too many animal foods can have the opposite effect.”

She was impressed that the study used many diverse prospective studies, which “provide a higher quality of evidence.”

The focus on multiple health outcomes was another strength, Ms. De Angelis told MNT.

How does the review fall short?

Nevertheless, the research team also acknowledged several limitations to their study, stressing that their “findings should be interpreted with caution.”

Many of the studies analyzed used theoretical food substitutions. Moreover, portion sizes differed among studies, resulting in unequal comparisons of dietary substitutes.

Using only prospective observational studies presented the potential for residual confounding and measurement inaccuracies.

Furthermore, the limited number of studies in the final analysis did not allow for subgroup assessments. For instance, dairy products were assessed as one group. The authors noted that “dairy includes a wide range of different products (e.g., milk, yogurt, cheese) with different associations with cardiometabolic outcomes.”

De Angelis commented: “Among the weaknesses, I would mention that the information only allows us to make associations, and not causality, because many of the analyzed studies were observational. This means we don’t know for sure if any other factors may have been involved in the outcomes.”

The review authors felt that more research was needed to support the existing evidence. They expressed their hope that future work would explore new interconnections and highlight meat and dairy replacements.

Better dietary choices for our bodies and the planet?

MNT also discussed this study with registered dietitian nutritionist Sara Chatfield. She was not involved in the research.

Chatfield pointed out that transitioning to more plant-based foods can reap significant benefits to the planet, because animal production is so resource- and land-intensive.

In fact, both of the nutritionists interviewed by MNT agreed that focusing more on whole plant foods can only help the Earth and its inhabitants.

Chatfield referred to research suggesting that shifting to plant-based dietary patterns could reduce diet-related land useTrusted Source by 76% and greenhouse gas emissions by 49%.

De Angelis shared a similar view, saying that:

“There is no denying that following a mainly plant-based diet has been proven beneficial not only for our overall health but also for the planet as we reduce our carbon footprint by choosing such foods.”

Both nutritionists cautioned, however, that a fully plant-based diet may not be the best option for some, depending on an individual’s health conditions, preferences, and food accessibility.

Still, De Angelis emphasized that “trying to add more plant foods to your diet can be an easy and simple step for better health.”

What is depression and what can I do about it?

Depression is a mental health condition that causes a chronic feeling of emptiness, sadness, or inability to feel pleasure that may appear to happen for no clear reason.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It can undermine a person’s relationships, make working and maintaining good health very difficult, and in severe cases, may lead to suicide. In fact, depression contributes to nearly 40,000 suicides in the United States each year.

It can affect adults, adolescents, and children. This article examines what depression is and what causes it, as well as types of depression, treatment, and more.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, and loss of joy. It is different from the mood fluctuations that people regularly experience as a part of life.

Major life events, such as bereavement or the loss of a job, can trigger depression. But depression is distinct from the negative feelings a person may temporarily have in response to a difficult life event.

Depression often persists in spite of a change of circumstances and causes feelings that are intense, chronic, and not proportional to a person’s circumstances.

It is an ongoing problem, not a passing one. While there are different types of depression, the most common one is major depressive disorder. It consists of episodes during which the symptoms last for at least two weeks.

Depression can last for several weeks, months, or years. For many people, it is a chronic illness that gets better and then relapses.

While there is no cure for depression, there are effective treatments that help with recovery. The earlier that treatment starts, the more successful it may be. Some people may never experience depression again after a single period of it. Others will continue to have relapses.

Many people experiencing depression recover after a treatment plan. Even with effective treatment, however, a relapse may occur. About half  of people do not initially respond to treatment.

To prevent relapse, people who take medication for depression should continue with treatment — even after symptoms improve or go away — for as long as their doctor advises.

Find tips to help prevent depression from returning here.

Depression can cause a range of psychological and physical symptoms, including

  • persistent depressed mood
  • loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • changes in appetite and body weight
  • unusually slow or agitated movements
  • decreased energy or fatigue
  • difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

If a person experiences five Trusted Sourceor more of these symptoms during the same 2-week period, a doctor may diagnose them with depression.

Depression may also cause other symptoms, including irritability, restlessness, chronic pain, headaches, and digestive issues.

There are several forms of depression. Below are some of the most common types.

Major depression

A person living with major depression experiences a constant state of sadness. They may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Treatment usually involves medication and psychotherapy.

Persistent depressive disorder

Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder causes symptoms that last for at least 2 years.

A person living with this disorder may have episodes of major depression as well as milder symptoms that do not meet the criteria for major depressive disorder.

Postpartum depression

After giving birth, some people experience a brief period of sadness or heightened emotions that some people call the “baby blues.” This usually goes away in a few days to a few weeks.

Postpartum depression, or postnatal depression, is more severe.

There is no single cause for this type of depression, and it can persist for months or years. Anyone who experiences ongoing depression after delivery should seek medical attention.

Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern

Previously known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this type of depression usually occurs during the winter and fall months, when there is less daylight. Less commonly, it may follow other seasonal patterns.

It lifts during the rest of the year and in response to light therapy.

This condition seems to particularly affect people who live in countries with long or severe winters.

The medical community does not fully understand the causes of depression. There are many possible causes, and sometimes, various factors combine to trigger symptoms.

Factors that are likely to play a role include:

  • genetic features
  • changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter levels
  • environmental factors such as exposure to trauma or lack of social support
  • psychological and social factors
  • additional conditions, such as bipolar disorder

Interactions between various factors can increase the risk of depression. For instance, a person with a family history or a genetic risk of depression may experience symptoms of depression following a traumatic event.

The symptoms of depression can include:

  • a depressed mood
  • reduced interest or pleasure in activities that a person previously enjoyed
  • a loss of sexual desire
  • changes in appetite
  • unintentional weight loss or gain
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • agitation, restlessness, and pacing up and down
  • slowed movement and speech
  • fatigue or loss of energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or an attempt at suicide

Find out more about recognizing the hidden signs of depression here.

In females

Depression is nearly twice as common in females than males, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers do not know why depression appears to be more common in females. However, a 2021 study proposes that the difference may be due to disparities in reporting. Researchers found that females were more likely than males to report and seek treatment for depression symptoms.

Some research suggests that exposure to gender discrimination increases the risk of depression.

Also, some types of depression are unique to females, such as postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

In males

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition study, which relies on self-reports of mental health symptoms, 5.5% of males report depression symptoms in a given 2-week period, compared with 10.4% of females.

Males with depression are more likely than females to drink alcohol in excess, display anger, and engage in risk-taking as a result of the disorder.

Other symptoms of depression in males may include:

  • avoiding family and social situations
  • working without a break
  • having difficulty keeping up with work and family responsibilities
  • displaying abusive or controlling behavior in relationships

Learn more about the symptoms of depression in men.

In college students

Time at college can be stressful, and a person may be dealing with other lifestyles, cultures, and experiences for the first time.

Some students have difficulty coping with these changes, and they may develop depression, anxiety, or both as a result.

Symptoms of depression in college students may include:

  • difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
  • insomnia
  • sleeping too much
  • a decrease or increase in appetite
  • avoiding social situations and activities that they used to enjoy

In teens

Physical changes, peer pressure, and other factors can contribute to depression in teenagers.

They may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • feeling irritable
  • restlessness, such as an inability to sit still
  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
  • feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless

In children

The CDC estimate that, in the U.S., 4.4% of children and teenagers aged 3–17 have a diagnosis of depression. This figure has risen in recent years.

Depression in children can make schoolwork and social activities challenging. They may experience symptoms such as:

  • crying
  • low energy
  • clinginess
  • defiant behavior
  • vocal outbursts

Younger children may have difficulty expressing how they feel in words. This can make it harder for them to explain their feelings of sadness.

Learn more about mental health in trans people here.

In historically marginalized groups

Research shows that the prevalence of major depression among African Americans has been around 10.4%, compared with 17.9% among people who are white.

However, 56% of African Americans experience depression more chronically, compared with 38.6% of people who are white. This implies that though fewer African Americans may experience depression, those who do may experience it for longer. In addition, less than half of these African Americans have sought treatment.

Other research indicates that African Americans may have depression less frequently than non-Hispanic people who are white, but this may be due to the fact that many African Americans often do not have a proper diagnosis.

Triggers are emotional, psychological, or physical events or circumstances that can cause depression symptoms to appear or return.

These are some of the most common triggers:

  • stressful life events, such as loss, family conflicts, and changes in relationships
  • incomplete recovery after having stopped depression treatment too soon
  • medical conditions, especially a medical crisis such as a new diagnosis or a chronic illness such as heart disease or diabetes

Find out more about depression triggers here.

Some people have a higher risk of depression than others.

Risk factors include:

  • experiencing certain life events, such as bereavement, work issues, changes in relationships, financial problems, and medical concerns
  • experiencing acute stress
  • having a lack of successful coping strategies
  • having a close relative with depression
  • using some prescription drugs, such as corticosteroids, certain beta-blockers, and interferon
  • using recreational drugs, such as alcohol or amphetamines
  • having sustained a head injury
  • having a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s
  • having had a previous episode of major depression
  • having a chronic condition, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or cardiovascular disease
  • living with chronic pain
  • lacking social support

Depression can also occur as a symptom or comorbidity with another mental health condition. Examples include:

Psychotic depression

Psychosis can involve delusions, such as false beliefs and a detachment from reality. It can also involve hallucinations — sensing things that do not exist.

Some people experience depression with psychosis. A person living with psychosis, which is a serious psychiatric illness, may experience depression as a result.

Alternatively, a person living with depression may have a severe form of the condition that also includes psychosis symptoms.

Bipolar disorder

Depression is a common symptom of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder experience periods of depression that may last weeks. They also experience periods of mania, which is an elevated mood that may cause a person to feel very happy, aggressive, or out of control.

What does bipolar disorder involve, and what types are there? Find out here.

Depression is treatable, though the treatment may depend on the exact type a person is living with.

However, about 30.9% of people do not respond to treatment or respond poorly. About 4 in 10 people achieve remission of their symptoms within 12 months, but depression can come back.

Managing symptoms usually involves three components:

  • Support: This can range from discussing practical solutions and possible causes to educating family members.
  • Psychotherapy: Also known as talking therapy, some options include one-to-one counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Drug treatment: A doctor may prescribe antidepressants.


Antidepressants can help treat moderate to severe depression. Several classes of antidepressants are available:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • atypical antidepressants
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Each class acts on a different neurotransmitter or combination of neurotransmitters.

A person should only take these medications as their doctor prescribes. Some drugs can take a while to have an impact. By stopping taking the drug, a person may not experience the benefits that it can offer.

Some people stop taking medication after symptoms improve, but this can lead to a relapse.

A person should raise any concerns about antidepressants with a doctor, including any intention to stop taking the medication.

Learn more about antidepressants and how they can help here.

Medication side effects

SSRIs and SNRIs can have side effects. A person may experience:

  • nausea
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • low blood sugar
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • a rash
  • sexual dysfunction

Find out more about the possible side effects of antidepressants here.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to put a “black box” warning on antidepressant bottles.

The warning indicates that, among other risks, these medications may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults within the first few months of treatment. While there is an increase in risk, the absolute risk remains low.

Natural remedies

Some people use natural remedies, such as herbal medicines, to treat mild to moderate depression.

However, since the FDA does not monitor herbal remedies, manufacturers may not be truthful about the quality of these products. They may not be safe or effective.

In a 2018 systematic review of herbal remedies for depression, 45% of studies reported positive results from herbal treatments, including fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.

The following are some of the more popular herbs and plants that people use to treat depression:

  • St. John’s wort: This is not suitable for people who are or may be living with bipolar disorder. Learn more here.
  • Ginseng: Practitioners of traditional medication may use this to improve mental clarity and reduce stress. Find out more about ginseng here.
  • Chamomile: This contains flavonoids that can have an antidepressant effect. For more information about chamomile, click here.
  • Lavender: This may help reduce anxiety and insomnia. Learn more about lavender here.

It is essential for a person to speak with a doctor before using any type of herbal remedy or supplement to treat depression. Some herbs can interfere with the action of drugs or otherwise make symptoms worse.


A person may take the herbs above as supplements to treat symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Other types of supplements can also help treat these symptoms.

It is important to remember that the FDA does not monitor supplements to ensure that they are effective or safe.

Nonherbal supplements that may help treat depression include S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) — a synthetic form of a natural chemical in the body. They also include 5-hydroxytryptophan, which can help to boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter in the brain that affects a person’s mood.

Some research has suggested that SAMe may be as helpful as the prescription antidepressants imipramine and escitalopram, but more investigation is necessary.

Learn more about how herbs and supplements may help relieve depression here.

Food and diet

Some research suggests that eating a lot of sugary or processed foods can lead to various physical health problems and poor mental health. Results of a 2019 study suggest that a diet that includes many of these types of food can affect the mental health of young adults.

The study also found that eating more of the following foods helped reduce depression symptoms:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • olive oil

Can other foods worsen or improve depression symptoms? Find out here.


Psychotherapy, or talking therapies, for depression include CBT, interpersonal psychotherapy, and problem-solving treatment.

For some forms of depression, psychotherapy is usually the first-line treatment, while some people respond better to a combination of psychotherapy and medications.

CBT and interpersonal psychotherapy are the two main types of psychotherapy for depression. A person may have CBT in individual sessions with a therapist, in groups, over the telephone, or online.

CBT focuses on helping a person identify the connection between their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. They then work steadily to change harmful thoughts and behaviors.

Interpersonal therapy aims to help people identify:

  • emotional problems that affect relationships and communication
  • how these issues also affect their mood
  • how to improve relationships and better manage emotions


Aerobic exercise raises endorphin levels and stimulates neurotransmitters, potentially easing depression and anxiety. A 2019 paper states that exercise may be especially helpful with treatment-resistant depression.

Exercise offers the greatest benefits when a person combines it with standard treatments, such as antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Brain stimulation therapies

Brain stimulation therapies are another treatment option. For example, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation sends magnetic pulses to the brain, and this may help treat major depression.

If depression does not respond to drug treatment, a person may benefit from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Doctors do not fully understand how ECT works.

During the procedure, a person is asleep, and a doctor uses electricity to induce a seizure. This may help “reset” the brain, correcting problems with neurotransmitters or other issues that cause depression.

If a person suspects that they have symptoms of depression, they should seek professional help from a doctor or mental health specialist.

A qualified health professional can rule out various causes, ensure an accurate diagnosis, and provide safe and effective treatment.

They will ask questions about symptoms, such as how long they have been present. A doctor may also conduct an examination to check for physical causes and order a blood test to rule out other health conditions.

What is the difference between situational and clinical depression? Find out here.


Mental health professionals often ask people to complete questionnaires to help assess the severity of their depression.

The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, for example, has 21 questions. The scores indicate the severity of depression among people who already have a diagnosis.

The Beck Depression Inventory is another questionnaire that helps mental health professionals measure a person’s symptoms.

National hotlines provide free, confidential assistance from trained professionals 24 hours a day. They may benefit anyone with depression who wants or needs to talk about their feelings.

Some of the support hotlines available include:

  • Samaritans: This nonprofit organization offers emotional support to anyone who has feelings of depression or loneliness or who is considering suicide. Call or text 877-870-4673 (HOPE).
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273- 8255 (TALK) to speak with someone from this national network of local crisis centers.
  • Lifeline Chat: This is an online chat service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Postpartum Support International: Call 1-800-944-4773. This organization helps people struggling with postpartum depression, as well as other mental health issues that are related to pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood.

A person with a parent or sibling who has depression is about three times more likely than other people to develop the condition.

However, many people with depression have no family history of it.

A recent study suggests that susceptibility to depression may not result from genetic variation. The researchers acknowledge that while people can inherit depression, many other issues also influence its development.

Learn more about whether depression has a genetic link here.

Depression is the leading cause of disability around the world, according to the WHO.

In the U.S., the Social Security Administration considers depressive, bipolar, and related disorders to be disabilities. If a person’s depression prevents them from working, they may qualify for social security disability insurance benefits.

The person must have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify for disability benefits. For more information, visit the administration’s website.

According to the CDC, about 11% of physician office visits note depression on the medical record. The figure is similar for emergency department visits.

Also according to the CDC, 4.4% of children and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 17 years — about 2.7 million people in the U.S. — have a diagnosis of depression.

The CDC also note that 4.7% of American adults have regular feelings of depression.

Here are some common questions about depression.

What does depression do to the brain?

Depression can lead to changes in levels of neurotransmitters, which are molecules that transmit messages between nerve cells. In the long run, it may also cause physical changes to the brain, including reductions in grey matter volume and increased inflammation.

Does depression change your personality?

Research has turned up mixed results about whether or not depression can actually change a person’s personality.

However, according to one review of 10 studies, depressive symptoms may be associated with changes in several specific aspects of personality — including extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness — which could be temporary or persistent.

Does depression affect your thinking?

Depression can alter concentration and decision-making. It may also impair attention and cause issues with information processing and memory.

Depression is a serious, chronic medical condition that can affect every aspect of a person’s life. When it causes suicidal thoughts, it can be fatal.

People cannot think their way out of depression. Depression is not a personal failing or a sign of weakness. It is treatable, and seeking treatment early may increase the chances of recovery.

Because depression can be challenging to treat, it is important for a person to see a doctor with expertise in depression and to be willing to try several different treatments. Often, a combination of therapy and medication offers the best results.

Any activity is better for your heart health than sitting – even sleeping

Researchers say sitting for prolonged periods is detrimental to heart health. 

  • Researchers report that any activity is more beneficial to heart health than sitting, including sleeping.
  • Experts say daily activity can help with blood pressure, glucose levels, and muscle strength.
  • They say that even taking 5-minute walking breaks during the workday can be beneficial.

That’s the theme of a new study that states any activity — even sleeping — is better for the heart than sitting.

Supported by the British Heart Foundation and published today in the European Heart Journal, the study’s authors say their research is the first to assess how different movement patterns throughout the 24-hour day are linked to heart health.

The researchers say it’s the first evidence to emerge from the international Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting and Sleep 

— all diseases of the heart and circulation — is the number one cause of mortality globally, the researchers point out. In 2021, it was responsible for one in three deaths (18 million) worldwide, with coronary heart disease the single biggest killer.

How the exercise and heart health study was conducted

In their study, University College London scientists analyzed data from six studies, encompassing 15,246 people from five countries, to see how movement across the day is associated with heart health.

Each participant wore a device on their thigh measuring their activity throughout the 24-hour day and had their heart health measured.

Heart health was measured using six outcomes: body-mass index (BMI), waist circumference, HDL cholesterol, HDL-to-total cholesterol ratio, triglycerides, and HbA1c.

The study identified behaviors making up a typical 24-hour day, with time spent doing moderate-vigorous activity providing the most benefit to heart health, followed by light activity, standing, and sleeping. All were compared with the adverse impact of sedentary behavior.

The team modeled what would happen if an individual changed various amounts of one behavior for another each day for a week to estimate the effect on heart health for each scenario. They reported that when replacing sedentary behavior, as little as 5 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health.

How activity helps cardiovascular health

The researchers said for a 54-year-old woman with an average body mass index of 26.5, a 30-minute change translated into a 0.64 decrease in BMI, which is a difference of 2.4%.

Replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting or lying time with moderate or vigorous exercise could also translate into a 2.5 cm (2.7%) decrease in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6%) decrease in glycated haemoglobin.

“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,” Jo Blodgett, PhD, the study’s lead author and a researchers at the UCL Surgery & Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, said in a statement.

Blodgett added that the most beneficial change the team 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,” she said.

Although the authors said the findings can’t infer causality between movement behaviors and cardiovascular outcomes, this research does contribute to a growing body of evidence linking moderate to vigorous physical activity over 24 hours with improved body fat metrics.

They also said more long-term studies will be crucial to better understanding the associations between movement and cardiovascular outcomes.

How to increase your daily activities

Researchers said that although time spent doing vigorous activity was the quickest way to improve heart health, there are ways for people of all abilities to benefit. It’s just that the lower the intensity of the activity, the longer the time is required to start having a tangible benefit.

They said using a standing desk for a few hours a day instead of a sitting desk, for example, is a change over a relatively large amount of time but is also one that could be integrated into a working routine fairly easily.

The least active subjects were also found to gain the greatest benefit from becoming more active.

“A key novelty of the ProPASS consortium is the use of wearable devices that better differentiate between types of physical activity and posture, allowing us to estimate the health effects of even subtle variations with greater precision,” Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, the joint senior author of the study and a professor the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, said in a statement.

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in California, told Medical News Today there are many simple ways to add more steps to one’s day.

“Take scheduled breaks throughout the day to take a short five-minute walk, either around the house or around the office; taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from the store and walking, and walking more briskly when shopping,” he advised.

Chen said using stairs has multiple positive effects.

“Walking upstairs is harder exercise than walking on level ground. That’s because not only are you moving your body, you’re moving it against gravity, and you’re essentially pushing yourself up and out,” he said. “You are also building your muscles in your lower body, strengthening your core, and your lower back.”

“Climbing stairs is more difficult, you’re doing more exercise, and more exercise is better for you and your heart. We think that climbing stairs actually gives you three times as much exercise as the same amount of time walking on the ground,” Chen noted.

Activity helps blood pressure and blood sugar

Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, told Medical News Today that more activity leads to better blood pressure control. That, in turn, puts less strain on the heart over time and can prevent the development of heart failure or a heart attack.

“Muscles are also an important consumer of blood sugar and physical activity improves blood sugar levels and can reduce the risk for diabetes,” Ni said. “Since diabetes is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, any effort to prevent diabetes will ultimately lead to less risk of heart disease.”

Ni noted that the study shows even small improvements in physical activity can impacts blood sugar and blood pressure.

“Remember that small changes done over years can have a lasting impact on health,” Ni said. “It may not seem like much to walk 5 minutes every hour of desk work, but this can add up over the work day. In an 8-hour work day, this amounts to 40 minutes of physical activity. Add in a 15-minute walk during your lunch break and you suddenly have almost an hour of additional physical activity each work day.”

Research is important for the United States

Dr. J. Wes Ulm, a medical researcher and bioinformatics expert who works as an analyst for the National Institutes of Health, told Medical News Today the research “at first glance may not appear to point to much in the way of groundbreaking recommendations,” it’s signifcant. Especially for people in the United States.

“The U.S., unfortunately, has borne the brunt of a slow-burn health crisis particularly over the past decade, with a trend of steadily declining life expectancy that markedly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic but — unlike most of the rest of the world — has failed to right itself,” he said.

Ulm said the United States now has one of the lowest life expectancies for any developed nation, along with worse outcome measures for a variety of other core public health metrics.

He added that more movement helps, especially with chronic disease.

“The prevalence and severity of such chronic illnesses, in turn, are profoundly exacerbated by physical inactivity, obesity, and poor diet, the first (and by implication the second) of which is specifically addressed by the research reported in this study,” Ulm said.

How technology can help with daily activities

Dr. Bradley Serwer is a cardiologist and chief medical officer at VitalSolution, a company that offers cardiovascular and anesthesiology services to hospitals nationwide.

Serwer told Medical News Today that the study’s findings reaffirms why we see so much technology tracking movement.

“We have seen many updates and advancements over the years. Smart watches which track movement, steps, flights of stairs, heart rate, heart rate variability, etc. have been a valuable tool. Not only do they track your statistics, they also can serve as a reminder when you are sedentary for too long,” he said.

Serwer added that standing desks have become popular to promote constant movement.

“Exercise throughout the workday can help decrease professional burnout, can improve mood and help with mental clarity,” he said. “My tips for long term success include finding a physical activity that you enjoy that you will stick to. Find an exercise partner to help motivate you. Record your workout either on a smart watch or an old fashion written log. These tips will help motivate and encourage you to continue with permanent lifestyle changes.”