The benefits of physical activity on cardiovascular health extend to young children, according to a new study.
While positive impacts have been seen for school-age children and adults, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada said few studies have been done on younger children.
They used data on 3- to 5-year-olds who were assessed on various measures of cardiovascular health every three years as part of the Health Outcomes and Physical activity in Preschoolers study and documented the findings in “Physical activity and trajectories of cardiovascular health indicators during early childhood,” (Proudfoot NA, et al. Pediatrics. June 11, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2242).
The 418 children wore an accelerometer around their waist for a week each year to track how much physical activity they engaged in and the intensity level, which were recorded as total physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
Their cardiovascular fitness was measured by their endurance on a treadmill and how quickly their heart rate recovered after exercising. Researchers also measured the stiffness of their arteries via pulse wave velocity and carotid artery β-stiffness index and obtained their seated blood pressure.
The team found children with more total physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity could run longer on the treadmill and had quicker recovery times after exercise, both indicating better cardiovascular health. However, boys’ endurance benefited only from the more intense exercise.
“This may reflect boys’ average higher physical activity and fitness levels … thereby requiring more intense physical activity to improve fitness,” authors wrote.
Results also showed moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was associated with slower increases in arterial stiffness. Total physical activity had a significant effect on just one of the two indicators of arterial stiffness.
“This suggests that more intense physical activity is required to slow the progressive stiffening of arteries and results in better vascular health trajectories,” according to the study.
For girls, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity also was linked to better blood pressure. Blood pressure “may not have been a sensitive enough indicator to detect change in vascular health in this cohort of boys,” authors said.
They called for future studies on how long the health benefits of physical activity last and encouraged children to be more active.
“Our findings highlight the importance of physical activity for the early prevention of cardiovascular disease,” lead author Nicole A. Proudfoot, M.Sc., said in video abstract. “Young children should be provided as many opportunities as possible to be physically active and be encouraged to do more intense activities like jumping and playing tag. Kids need to be moving every day and more intensity is better for cardiovascular health.”
- AAP "Clinical Practice Guideline for Screening and Management of High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents"
- Information for parents from HealthyChildren.org on children and high blood pressure
- AAP clinical report "The Role of the Pediatrician in Primary Prevention of Obesity"
- Information for parents from HealthyChildren.org on encouraging children to be physically active