Active Child Makes for an Active Heart

Heart disease risk factors not as common among kids who are active 60 to 85 minutes a day

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It’s not news that physical activity is good for the body and can prevent a number heart and health problems in adults. The same thing can now be said for kids — that exercise and physical activity could protect young ones from heart disease. 

A new study found that kids who had between 60 to 85 minutes of physical activity per day were less likely to develop factors that could lead to heart disease in the future compared to less active kids.

According to authors of this study, their findings show that between 60 and 85 minutes of moderate physical activity each day can better protect kids from heart disease than the current recommendation of 60 minutes.

"Get active as a family."

This study, led by David Jiménez-Pavón, from the Department of Physiotherapy and Nursing at the University of Zaragoza, Spain, looked at how physical activity affected children's chances of developing conditions or risk factors that lead to heart disease, or cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Physical inactivity, poor diet and a number of other unhealthy habits can lead to heart disease, though it is more prevalent among adults who are older than 55.

This study included data on more than 3,000 European children from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-induced Health Effects In Children and Infants Study (IDEFICS).

The kids were between 2 and 9 years of age, with more than two-thirds between 6 and 9 years old. The participants’ height, weight, mass, blood samples and body mass index (BMI) were tracked. BMI is a measure of weight and height together.

The kids’ level of physical activity was also tracked. The children were instructed to wear an accelerometer measuring their movement over a four to five day period.

The accelerometers, which were attached to the kids' hips, recorded their movement and heart rate at least six hours a day. The kids were able to remove the device while sleeping or engaging in water activities.

The researchers grouped the children by age and gender and compared each group’s risk factors for heart disease.

Heart disease risk factors were assessed by measuring the kids’ blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride (blood fat) levels and skin folds. Older kids also had their fitness levels taken into account.

Among children younger than 6 years of age, the researchers found that the least active boys were two and a half times more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease compared to the most active boys.

The odds of developing risk factors for heart disease among the youngest girls did not differ significantly between the most and least active girls.

Among the older group of children, the odds that the least active boys would develop risk factors for heart disease ranged between 2.7 times and 5.4 times greater than the most active boys.

For the older girls, the odds of developing risk factors for heart disease were between 2.8 and 7.1 times greater among the least active girls compared to the most active girls.

The most active kids engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity for 60 to 85 minutes a day.

The current recommendations in both the US and Europe are that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. According to the researchers of this study, these recommendations may still be appropriate for girls but could be a slight underestimate for boys.

“Physical activity is important to protect against clustering of CVD risk factors in young children, being more consistent in those older than 6 years,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Healthcare professionals should recommend around 60 and 85 min/day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, including 20 min/day of vigorous physical activity.”

There is no question that physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease in both children and adults, according to Rusty Gregory, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"Usually children who are encouraged by their parents to play and/or participate in sports are also more likely to eat healthier, get more sleep, etc.," he said"One of the most important factors with a child's health is the amount of involvement of the parents in their child's life. Caring, encouraging, and supportive parents will go a long way in developing a healthy child that will be more inclined to exercise and eat right." 

The authors noted that the findings of their study might not be generalizable to less healthy populations of kids since the participants of this study were mainly healthy. The authors also could not determine whether physical activity was the sole cause of improved heart health.

Future research should look into how much of an increase in physical activity is needed to improve cardiovascular fitness in kids, according to the researchers.

The study, supported by the European Community under the Sixth RTD Framework Programme, Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the European Regional Development Fund, was published online July 30 in the journal BMC Medicine. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Review Date: 
July 30, 2013
Last Updated:
August 4, 2013