Skip to main content

Heart Foundation advises the more we sit, the higher our risk of heart disease

With many people now able to work from home more often, New Zealanders are sitting more and moving less, putting them at greater risk of heart disease according to new advice from the Heart Foundation.

“For many industries working from home is more common in the COVID-19 era and it’s likely to have a big impact on the amount we are moving during the day, which is affecting our health,” says Heart Foundation National Advisor, Lily Henderson.

“We’ve looked at the evidence and the impact of too much sitting and not enough physical activity is clear,” Lily says. “People who sat the most had a risk of heart disease that was 29% greater than those who sat the least.”

Physical activity is not only good for your heart, it helps to clear the mind and is positive for mental health too. 

“People who self-reported high physical activity (versus low physical activity) were 20-22% less likely to develop depression and anxiety.”

The Heart Foundation’s latest advice is to reduce and limit long periods of sitting and to incorporate any type of movement during the day to reduce the risk of heart disease. If you’re working from home, use it as an opportunity to build more physical activity in your day.

The latest evidence tells us that doing small amounts of physical activity throughout the day can provide the same benefits as a longer session.

Current guidelines recommend accumulating at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity that makes it harder for you to breathe than normal but still capable of talking, with greater heart health benefits the more we do.

Lily says any type and amount of exercise or physical activity is better than none and we can all help our hearts by breaking up long periods of sitting whether it’s at a computer, in a vehicle or watching TV.

“The evidence highlights that excessive sitting increases our heart disease risk, and this is particularly true for people who don’t meet current physical activity recommendations,” says Ralph Maddison, Professor of Physical Activity at Deakin University and advisor to the Heart Foundation.

“Sitting occupies many adults’ waking hours and if New Zealanders were able to build more movement into their day even by a small amount, it would have an important public health impact. Therefore, the take home message is to sit less and move more.”

For some people, working from home may give more flexibility and time for physical activity but for others it may mean less. People working from home may miss out on physical activity associated with their commute, walking about the office, taking stairs, attending meetings or popping out of the building for a coffee break.

“Building in short bursts of physical activity such as hanging washing, kicking a ball around with kids and walking to the letterbox are great ways to break up the day when you’re working from home,” Lily says. “When you go into work, taking the stairs, parking a bit further away, chatting to a colleague instead of sending an email, and walking to or standing at meetings will all help too.”

The latest New Zealand Health Survey shows that around one in eight adults (12.5%) do less than 30 minutes of physical activity across the week.

“We’re saying whether you’re at home or work, move your body, get off your chair, anything you do during the day counts and is better for your heart health than doing nothing.”

Heart Foundation tips to sit less and move more when working at home:

  • Stand up and stretch throughout the day, i.e. 2 minutes of stretching every hour.
  • Find an online workout or yoga class to do during your lunch break.
  • Schedule short bursts of physical activity into your day (either before, during or after work).
  • Take phone or video calls while standing with headphones on.
  • Set a daily or weekly goal for physical activity and celebrate small wins as you go.

Read more about physical activity

Download our position statement