Vigorous Activity During Childhood Cuts Heart Disease Risk Later In Life

EXETER, England — There are plenty of immediate and short-term benefits for children who regularly play sports, but a recent study shows that physically fit children may have the healthiest hearts during their adult years.

Scientists from the University of Exeter say that, in order to significantly lower the risk of heart disease later in life, teenagers need vigorous physical activity to maintain physical fitness.

Current health guidelines in the United Kingdom and elsewhere suggest kids between 5 and 18 should commit to at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day to maintain heart health and fitness.

But researchers say the difference between “moderate” and “vigorous” activity can be huge.

The study’s authors found that only vigorous activity, or any activity that leaves an individual out of breath and sweating, such as team sports or running, had significant effects on heart disease risk factors. Such factors include body mass index (BMI) or waist size.

“Many previous studies have put moderate and vigorous physical activity together when looking at potential health benefits, as this is what health guidelines are based on,” explains Dr. Alan Barker, a senior lecturer of paediatric exercise and health at the university, in a release. “We wanted to separate these and see whether their effects varied. Moderate activity has many health benefits, but in specific terms of reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it’s vigorous activity that appears to make a difference.”

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Vigorous activity is defined in this case as physical activity that uses six times the amount of energy a person uses when resting, according to the researchers. These activities include jogging, swimming, cycling, and more.

Barker and his team also connected an adolescent’s time spent watching television and risk factors for developing diabetes or heart disease in their adult years.

The study was published on March 1, 2018 in the International Journal of Cardiology.