This Daily Habit Can Lower Heart Disease Risk by 43%, According to New Research

Nope, we're not talking about diet or sleep!

A calendar with a heart and a downward arrow
Photo: Getty Images / Jeffrey Coolidge / Xavier Lorenzo / sorbetto

It seems like just about each week, scientists are adding another piece of evidence to the mountain of heart disease risk factors that we can control—and clueing us in about how and why. (Case in point: Recently, we've learned that vitamin D levels may be related to heart disease risk, and that "Life's Simple 7" can benefit both cardiovascular and brain health.)

We'll take all the tips and tricks we can get, especially considering heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. Cardiovascular disease currently accounts for approximately 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means that every 36 seconds someone dies of heart disease.

We recently learned a bit more about how we can keep our ticker in tiptop shape and reduce our risk for heart disease. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, you need not hit the gym daily or complete a half-marathon to keep your heart healthy. Routine activities of daily living that include a little bit of movement can really add up too. Compared to those who moved for two hours per day, older women who racked up four hours of activity per day—even while doing low-intensity "workouts" like gardening, walking, stretching and cleaning—had a 43% lower risk for heart disease and a 30% lower risk for stroke. And for the four-hour-per-day group, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was 62% lower as well.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers used accelerometers to track the physical activity of more than 5,400 women between the ages of 63 and 97. These women had not been diagnosed with heart disease at the study's start date, but had agreed to wear the activity tracker for seven days so the scientists could determine how much time they spent moving (or not) as they went about their day. This movement included doing things like getting in a car, standing, walking around the house, running, gardening, cooking, taking the stairs or doing mild stretching.

Every extra minute counts, the researchers say, so if it feels intimidating to commit to a full group fitness class or 10K race at first, don't sweat it. While the study results don't negate the benefits of more structured forms of exercise like a 60-minute bike ride or HIIT class, you don't need to schedule a sweat sesh to reap some heart-healthy benefits. This study shows that keeping active and moving daily (even if it's just walking your dog around the block or pulling weeds in your garden) can help.

Beyond reducing heart disease risk, exercise offers plenty of benefits, including weight loss, lower levels of stress and improved mood. And doing all of the above in small chunks throughout the day makes it feel much more doable to hit that four-hour mark. In addition, compared to sitting for long streaks, little exercise "nuggets" can benefit blood sugar, metabolism and more.

A wearable fitness tracker or an activity-tracking app makes it easy to keep tabs on your daily tally of these more lifestyle-y "workouts" like walking, shopping, gardening and beyond. And keep in mind that if four hours is outside of your range right now, every extra minute counts—even if you're not seeing a shift on the scale. (ICYMI, another study found that physical activity, not weight loss, is the key to reducing health risks.)

It's also important to remember that what's on your plate plays a huge role too. Here's our complete list of heart-healthy foods to consider adding to your shopping list this week, and score additional inspiration from our top 34 anti-inflammatory dinners for heart health.

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