How much exercise is enough to counteract heart disease?

Patients with heart disease should aim to be physically active seven minutes for every 20 they’re sedentary to prolong life and prevent further cardiovascular damage, according to research presented at the 2018 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto.

“There is a lot of evidence now that sitting for long periods is bad for health,” lead investigator Ailar Ramadi, MPT, said in a release from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Despite that, Ramadi, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, said it’s safe to assume the majority of CVD patients still spend the majority of their waking hours sitting, lying down or watching television.

Taking breaks from those sedentary periods is the best way to mitigate a patient’s risk for heart damage—especially if the additional activity can burn 770 calories or more per day, a number associated with a lower risk of premature death.

Ramadi and her team enrolled 132 patients, 77 percent male and on average 63 years old, in their study to determine exactly how much activity is required to expend that extra 770 calories. The researchers provided participants with an armband activity monitor that recorded the number and duration of breaks during each sedentary hour and tracked the patient’s energy expenditure.

Participants wore their armbands for an average of 22 hours a day for five days, Ramadi said. Upon analysis, the team found patients needed 7 minutes of light physical activity to counteract the negative cardiovascular effects of sitting for 20 minutes. That adds up to 21 minutes of movement per hour of being sedentary.

“Simple activities such as standing up and walking at a casual pace will expend more than 770 kcal in a day if done with this frequency and duration,” Ramadi said.

Joep Perk, a spokesperson for ESC Prevention, said in the release Ramadi et al.’s research was limited in its small sample size and warned physicians shouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet.

“A randomized controlled trial is needed before this can become a firm recommendation,” he said. “Nevertheless, regular physical activity is key to achieving a healthy life, whether you are a cardiac patient or not.”