New research has found that when preschool children get enough exercise, it can help protect their heart health as adults

We know that children entertained by TV and iPads run the risk of not getting enough exercise. So, turn the TV off and have a family dance party instead. Research from McMaster University has found that physical activity in early childhood may have an impact on cardiovascular health later in life.

Scientists followed the activity levels of hundreds of preschoolers over a period of years.

They found that physical activity in children as young as three years old benefits blood vessel health, cardiovascular fitness, and is key to the prevention of early risk indicators that can lead to adult heart disease.

“Many of us tend to think cardiovascular disease hits in older age, but arteries begin to stiffen when we are very young,” explains Nicole Proudfoot, a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University and lead author on the study.

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“It’s important to start any kind of preventative measures early. We need to ensure small children have many opportunities to be active to keep their hearts and blood vessels as healthy as possible,” she says.

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Over 400 children studied

More than 400 children between the ages of three and five were involved in the study.

Over the course of three years, the researchers measured and analysed key markers of heart health: cardiovascular fitness, arterial stiffness and blood pressure.

Many of us tend to think cardiovascular disease hits in older age, but arteries begin to stiffen when we are very young

The researchers calculated cardiovascular fitness by measuring how long the children could last on a treadmill test and how fast their heart rate recovered after exercise. They measured arterial stiffness by how fast their pulse travelled through their body and used ultrasound imaging to measure the stiffness of the carotid artery. They also measured blood pressure.

They tracked physical activity each year by having the children wear an accelerometer around their waist for one week, allowing researchers to determine the amount and intensity of their activity each day.

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Children need energetic play time

The researchers determined that while arteries stiffen over time, the process is slower in young children who have been more active.

Those children also showed more endurance on the treadmill, suggesting they had better cardiovascular fitness, and their heart rates came down faster after exercise.

While the findings showed total physical activity had favourable effects on cardiovascular health, more intense physical activity was more beneficial.

“This research suggests that intensity matters,” says Brian Timmons, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster and the Canada Research Chair in Child Health & Exercise Medicine, who supervised the research. “Children benefit the most from energetic play, which means getting out of breath by playing games such as tag. And the more, the better.”

The physical activity does not have to happen all at once, he suggests. Children should be active on and off throughout the day.

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Source: McMaster University via www.sciencedaily.com

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.