Physical Activity Benefits Start Young

Preventative measures for heart health start as young as 3 years old, according to a large study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study took place over three years, looking at over 400 children ages 3-5 years old.

The findings indicated that all physical activity had a positive effect, but more intense physical activity was better. 

The researchers looked at key indicators of heart health:  cardiovascular fitness (how well the heart and lungs work), arterial stiffness (physical stiffness of the large arteries which can contribute to poor health in older adults) and blood pressure (the force of your heart pumping that moves blood around in the body).  To measure fitness levels, they calculated how long a child could last on a treadmill test and how fast their heart rates were after the exercise.  They also measured blood pressure.

Arteries stiffen over time, but the process was slower in the children who had been more active.  These children also showed higher endurance (treadmill test) and they had speedier recovery times after exercise.  Findings were similar between girls and boys.

The researchers say that physical activity can occur throughout the day-it doesn’t have to be all at once.  But intensity matters.  “Children benefit the most from energetic play, which means getting out of breath by playing games such as tag. And the more, the better,” 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.

The takeaway:  physical activity at a young age has significant health benefits.  In the future, researchers hope to find out if this beneficial effect during childhood continues into adulthood.

Nicole A. Proudfoot, Sara King-Dowling, John Cairney, Steven R. Bray, Maureen J. MacDonald and Brian W. Timmons Pediatrics July 2019, 144 (1) e20182242; DOI: