With iPads and smartphones becoming the new toys of choice for even the youngest children, there’s growing focus on keeping little ones active and off screens. A new study found that not only is it important to their current health to keep preschoolers moving, but it actually benefits them well into the future. The amount of exercise our preschoolers get can influence their heart health as adults.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics is the first of its kind to show the benefits of physical activity on cardiovascular health in preschoolers. The study followed 400 children from three to five years of age over the course of three years. Researchers measured key contributors to heart health like blood pressure, cardiovascular fitness, and stiffness of arteries.
Nicole Proudfoot, a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University and lead author on the study, explained in a release, “Many of us tend to think cardiovascular disease hits in older age, but arteries begin to stiffen when we are very young.”
The children participating in the study wore an accelerometer for a full week each year so their physical activity levels could be measured. Their cardiovascular fitness was measured by how long they could stay on a treadmill and how quickly their heart rates returned to normal afterward. Arterial stiffness was measured by ultrasound and their blood pressure was measured.
Results of the study were eye-opening. Researchers found that the activity level of children at such a young age was already influencing their cardiovascular health. Children who had less physical activity had stiffer arteries and less endurance on the treadmill while children who were more physically active experienced the opposite.
Study authors also emphasized the importance of keeping active throughout the day rather than just in one burst of time — like what many adults do when they fit in an hour of exercise. Young children need the benefit of physical activity throughout the day to build their stamina.
Proudfoot sums up their findings: “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.”