UCL to Commence Long-Term Study Poised to Shed Light on Link Between Workplace Inactivity and Cardiovascular Disease

It is well-known that physical inactivity is a risk factor for health conditions affecting the heart and circulatory system [see our feature article in edition 159 (here), as well as articles in editions 233 (here) and 264 (here)], but there is limited understanding as to exactly why.

However, this may be set to change, as the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has announced the award of a £855,000 grant to University College London (UCL), which will be used to fund a research project with the specific aim of investigating how sedentary lifestyle can lead to heart attack, stroke, etc.[1]

Up until now, the evidence base on this subject has been largely informed by questionnaire responses in studies that have examined the independent impacts of various human behaviours on a divisible basis, e.g. frequency of exercise, or periods of sitting down, or sleep quality, or sleep duration.

Unlike the preponderance of existing literature, this new study will examine all physical behaviour ‘together to see their true impact on health’. The rationale behind this is that behaviours occur within the same 24-hour cycle and therefore interact with eachother. Is it the case that ‘spending too much time being physically inactive might affect the benefits of being active at other times’?

Another dimension of this research is that the perceived genetic risk factors for heart and circulatory disease will be taken into account – what interaction, if any, is there between genetics, physical activity and ill health?

To arrive at their findings, UCL academics will collaborate with the University of Sydney by analysing a database of information pertaining to 13 international studies, which have tracked the physical activity (time spent sleeping, sitting, standing and moving around) of 72,000 participants in total, over a prolonged period, using state-of-the-art, thigh-worn devices.

It is hoped that focusing on the relationship between physical inactivity and the prevalence of adverse health outcomes (monitored over several years of follow-up) will result in improved guidance on prevention.

Indeed, Dr. Abigail Woodfin, Senior Research Adviser at the BHF, is optimistic that:

‘Studying these behaviours together and in a large number of people from across the world will help us to establish this relationship and could help form critical tools for public health policy, health surveillance, and community and clinical medicine that involve lifestyle modification’.

Adding impetus to this study is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As Lead Investigator and Professor of Sport & Exercise Medicine at the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health at UCL, Mark Hamer, explained:

‘With lockdown restrictions meaning some people are spending increased time sitting down, such as by working at a desk or watching TV, it’s now even more important that we understand the impact this could have on people’s health’.

We will continue to update our readers on this study as it progresses and more detail emerges.


[1] Lee Kettle, ‘New research to examine how sedentary behaviour is bad for our health’ (21 January 2021 British Heart Foundation) <https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2021/january/new-research-to-examine-how-sedentary-behaviour-is-bad-for-our-health> accessed 26 January 2021.