A new study at the University of Finland claims that the benefits of moderate-to-vigorous exercise on heart health, particularly on arterial stiffness, can be seen in children as young as 6 years old.
The study, lead by Dr. Ero Haapala, compared physical activity and sedentary time in over 130 6-8-year-old Finnish children through the use of self-report measures, heart monitors, and movement sensors.
After controlling for factors such as weight, diet, and sleep length, the researchers found that children who spent more time participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity daily had better heart health. In particular, children who were more sedentary had higher arterial stiffness, an early marker of the development of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.
These benefits of exercise on heart health were only noted in children who participated in moderate to vigorous physical activity, as opposed to children who only participated in light physical activity.
The researchers defined moderate to vigorous physical activity as 68 minutes of a level of at least 5, or 26 minutes of a level of at least 6, on the Metabolic Equivalent (MET) scale. MET measures the intensity of an exercise as a factor of energy cost. Some examples of exercises that fall under the study’s levels include ball games, dance, gymnastics, and running.
Haapala, the study’s principal investigator explains,
“It seems that the positive effects of physical activity on arterial stiffness require sufficient cardiovascular strain, and light physical activity does not provide that kind of stimulus. Moderate-to-vigorous exercise can also counterbalance the effects of sedentary time.”
Current recommendations advise that children need a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.