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The positive effect exercise has on your child’s heart

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

Physical activity in early childhood may have an impact on cardiovascular health later in life, according to McMaster University research.

Over the course of several years, scientists monitored the activity levels of hundreds of preschoolers. They discovered that physical activity benefits blood vessel health, cardiovascular fitness, and is critical in the prevention of early risk indicators that can lead to adult heart disease in children as young as three years old.

The study’s lead author, Nicole Proudfoot, a graduate student in McMaster University’s Department of Kinesiology, explains, “Many of us think cardiovascular disease strikes when we’re older, but arteries begin to stiffen when we’re very young. It’s critical to begin any kind of preventative measures as soon as possible. To keep their hearts and blood vessels as healthy as possible, we need to make sure that small children have plenty of opportunities to be active.”

More about the research

The study enlisted the participation of over 400 children aged three to five. The researchers measured and analysed key markers of heart health over the course of three years: cardiovascular fitness, arterial stiffness, and blood pressure.

The researchers determined cardiovascular fitness by observing how long the kids could stay on a treadmill and how quickly their heart rates returned to normal afterward. They used ultrasound imaging to measure the stiffness of the carotid artery and measured arterial stiffness by how fast their pulse traveled through their bodies. They also took blood pressure readings.

Each year, they tracked physical activity by having the kids wear an accelerometer around their waist for a week, allowing researchers to see how much and how intensely they exercised each day. On the treadmill, those kids showed more endurance, indicating that they had better cardiovascular fitness, and their heart rates dropped faster afterward. While total physical activity was found to be beneficial to cardiovascular health, more intense physical activity was found to be more beneficial.

The study’s supervisor, Brian Timmons, an associate professor in McMaster’s Department of Pediatrics and the Canada Research Chair in Child Health and Exercise Medicine, says, “This research suggests that intensity matters. Active play, which involves getting out of breath while playing games like tag, benefits children the most.”

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