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Apr 19, 2011

The Use of Heart Rate Recovery in Fitness Evaluation of Middle School Children

HRR may help identify children at risk for heart disease.

The prevalence of childhood obesity has more than doubled over the last 20 years – a troubling trend that can have a serious impact on health during adolescence all the way through adulthood. Not only are overweight and obese children more likely to have risk factors for heart disease, such as hypertension and diabetes, during adolescence, they are more likely to become obese as adults, increasing risk for life-threatening health conditions.

To address this issue, a recent study was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan to test the use of Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) in middle school children as an indicator of cardiovascular health. HRR is commonly used in adults to measure cardiovascular fitness by monitoring heart rate during physical activity. The longer it takes for the heart to return to its regular beat, the less healthy the heart is and the higher the risk for cardiovascular disease and cardiac events.  HRR is considered strong indicator of cardiovascular health in adults, and it has yet to be used on children – until now.

Researchers used data from 1276 middle-school students in Project Healthy Schools in southeast Michigan to compare the relationship between HRR in children and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Results showed that high HRR is strongly associated with cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol, overweight or obesity, and physical inactivity.

Based on outcomes, HRR appears to be an accurate measure of cardiovascular health in children and could be used to accurately identify children at risk for heart disease. Not only is HRR easy to test for, it can help to more accurately assess the health of children by focusing on the improvement of cardiovascular fitness instead of simply weight-loss.  

Questions for You to Consider

  • How is Heart Rate Recovery measured?

  • To determine HRR, the pulse must be measured before, during, and after exercise (typically following a short exercise test). By comparing the heart rate a few minutes after exercise with the heart rate right after stopping, the rate at which the heart slows down or recovers can be measured.
  • Can children improve their HRR?

  • Absolutely. Higher levels of HRR are associated with risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high body mass index (BMI), and a lack of physical activity. Through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes, children can improve their HRR, thus improving their cardiovascular health.

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