Don't want to hit the gym at all? Then it's better to sleep than to sit all day on your couch. A new study says that compared to sitting idle, any activity is better for your heart health — even sleeping.

Researchers from UCL Surgery and Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health explored the link between various patterns of daily movements and heart health. They found that replacing sedentary behavior, at least for five minutes a day, with moderate exercise can bring maximum benefits, followed by light activity, standing and sleeping.

"The big takeaway from our research is that while small changes to how you move can have a positive effect on heart health, the intensity of movement matters," Dr. Jo Blodgett, first author of the study, said in a media release. "The most beneficial change we observed was replacing sitting with moderate to vigorous activity – which could be a run, a brisk walk, or stair climbing – basically any activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, even for a minute or two."

The findings will be published in the European Heart Journal. Based on a data analysis of six studies, the team examined a total of 15,246 people from five countries. They looked at the movement patterns of the participants using a wearable device that tracked their activities throughout the day.

Heart health was measured in terms of six indicators: body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, HDL cholesterol, HDL-to-total cholesterol ratio, triglycerides and HbA1c.

"Though it may come as no surprise that becoming more active is beneficial for heart health, what's new in this study is considering a range of behaviors across the whole 24-hour day. This approach will allow us to ultimately provide personalized recommendations to get people more active in ways that are appropriate for them," said joint senior author of the study, Professor Mark Hamer.

Researchers also analyzed what happened when a person switched various amounts of one movement behavior with another each day for a week. The maximum benefits were observed when sitting was replaced by moderate to vigorous activity.

"For a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI of 26.5, for example, a 30-minute change translated into a 0.64 decrease in BMI, which is a difference of 2.4%. Replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting or lying time with moderate or vigorous exercise could also translate into a 2.5 cm (2.7%) decrease in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6%) decrease in glycated haemoglobin4," the news release said.

According to the researchers, making small changes like replacing the sitting desk with a standing desk for a few hours a day, is one way to reduce sitting time in the work routine.

"Getting active isn't always easy, and it's important to make changes that you can stick to in the long term and that you enjoy – anything that gets your heart rate up can help. Incorporating 'activity snacks' such as walking while taking phone calls, or setting an alarm to get up and do some star jumps every hour is a great way to start building activity into your day, to get you in the habit of living a healthy, active lifestyle," James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said.