Sedentary lifestyle in childhood is linked to heart damage in adulthood, study finds

A new study presented at the European Society of Cardiology ESC 2023 Congress suggests that prolonged sedentary behavior in childhood may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later adulthood. A study from the University of Eastern Finland found that even people of normal weight and blood pressure are susceptible to heart damage from prolonged sedentary behavior from childhood to adulthood.

Dr. Andrew Agbaje, lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of physical activity in maintaining long-term health. He stated, “All those hours spent behind a screen in youth lead to a weighted heart, which we know from studies in adults increases the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. Children and teens need to move more to keep themselves healthy for the long term.”

This groundbreaking study is the first to examine the cumulative impact of a sedentary lifestyle on heart health using smartwatch data. The study was part of the Children of the 90s study, which began in 1990/1991 and is known for its comprehensive measurement of lifestyle from birth.

As part of the study, the children wore a smartwatch equipped with an activity tracker for seven days at ages 11, 15 and 24. Echocardiography, a type of ultrasound, was used to assess the mass of the heart’s left ventricle at ages 17 and 24. The researchers then analyzed the relationship between the duration of sedentary lifestyle between the ages of 11 and 24 and heart size between the ages of 17 and 24, taking into account various factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, body fat, smoking, physical activity and socioeconomic status.

A total of 766 children were included in the study, with girls (55%) and boys (45%) almost equally distributed. The results showed that sedentary time increased significantly as children transitioned into early adolescence. At age 11 years, children were sedentary for an average of 362 minutes per day. By adolescence (age 15), this increased to 474 minutes per day, and by young adulthood (age 24) it reached 531 minutes per day. On average, sedentary behavior increased by 169 minutes (2.8 hours) per day from childhood to young adulthood.

The study also found that each additional minute of sedentary lifestyle between ages 11 and 24 was associated with a 0.004 g/m increase in left ventricular mass between ages 17 and 24. When multiplied by an additional 169 minutes of inactivity, this translates into a daily increase of 0.7 g/m – equivalent to a 3 g increase in left ventricular mass between echocardiographic measurements at average height. Previous studies in adults have shown that a similar increase in left ventricular mass (1 g/m) over seven years is associated with a twofold increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and death.

Dr. Agbaje stressed the need to address sedentary lifestyles in children and adolescents. He suggested that parents should encourage physical activity by taking children out for walks and limiting time spent on social media and video games. According to Martin Luther King Jr. “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

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