Many people believe that we don't have to worry about cardiovascular disease until later in life but it turns out, that isn't accurate. According to a study conducted in Canada, physical activity in early childhood has an impact on cardiovascular health later in life.
The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, discovered that physical activity in toddlers as young as 3 years old benefits blood vessel health. Not only does it benefit cardiovascular fitness, but it is also a key factor to preventing early risk indicators that lead to adult heart disease.
Lead author of the study, Nicole Proudfoot from McMaster University, said "Many of us tend to think cardiovascular disease hits in older age, but arteries begin to stiffen when we are very young."
"It's important to start any kind of preventative measures early. We need to ensure that small children have many opportunities to be active to keep their hearts and blood vessels as healthy as possible," Proudfoot said.
The study lasted three years and involved 400 children aged 3 to 5 years old. The researchers focused on analyzing key markers of heart health, including cardiovascular fitness, arterial stiffness and blood pressure.
The researchers measured cardiovascular fitness by testing how long the participants could last on a treadmill test. In addition, they studied how long it took the children's heart rates to recover after exercise. Arterial stiffness was measured by how fast the children's pulses traveled through their body and used ultrasound images to measure the stiffness of the carotid artery. Blood pressure was also measured.
The final measurement, physical activity, was measured each year by having the children wear an accelerator around their waist for one week. The accelerators gave the researchers the opportunity to track the amount and intensity of the children's activity each day.
After the study was completed, 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, which suggests they had better cardiovascular fitness. Their heart rates also came down faster after exercise. The researchers also determined that more intense physical activity was more beneficial compared to moderate physical activity.