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We are delighted to announce that the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has awarded Professor Mark Hamer, Chair in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH), within the UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science, a £855,000 research grant in collaboration with the University of Sydney,  to examine how sedentary behaviour is bad for our health.

Professor Hamer and team will measure how certain physical behaviours, such as sitting for long periods of time, can lead to heart and circulatory conditions such as heart attack and stroke, in order to improve prevention.

Although physical inactivity is a well-known risk factor for heart and circulatory conditions, its understanding is limited. Most evidence comes from questionnaire-based studies that examine behaviours such as amount of exercise, sitting, and sleep quality and duration independently.

However Professor Hamer believes as these behaviours are all part of the same 24-hour cycle, they must be examined together to see their true impact on health. This is because these behaviours interact and spending too much time being physically inactive might affect the benefits of being active at other times.

Data has now been collected from 72,000 participants who have had their physical activity measured by a thigh-worn activity tracker over a prolonged period. The state-of-the-art devices can analyse a range of different actions, including how much time people spend sleeping, sitting down, standing up and moving around.

Information from these devices, generated from 13 different international studies have been stored in a unique database. People involved in these studies will also be monitored over several years to record their health and hospital visits.

The new funding from the BHF means that the data can now be analysed so that researchers can closely examine the relationship between physical inactivity, sitting and sleeping and the prevalence of heart and circulatory conditions. They will also look at known genetic risk factors for heart and circulatory disease in the study participants and how these interact with physical activity and health outcomes.

Overall, the work could help shape new guidelines to improve the prevention of heart and circulatory diseases.

Professor Hamer said: “Most of the evidence we have on physical behaviours is limited, which compromises our ability to make accurate associations to heart and circulatory disease. We now need to understand more about how an active lifestyle is maintained, and to do this we need to study large samples of people over their life course.

By understanding this better, we can begin to make improved recommendations to the public. This will help understand about how an active lifestyle is maintained in order to change peoples’ lifestyles for the better.

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.”

Professor Fares Haddad, Director of the ISEH said: "Professor Mark Hamer is an outstanding researcher who has focused a very important and live subject. Sedentary behaviour has become an even more pressing issue with the impact of COVID on our lives. The recommendations that will arise from this work are likely to yield huge healthcare benefits worldwide."