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Apr 09, 2012

Physical Activity, Sedentary Time and Cardiovascular Risk in Adolescents

Replacing sedentary time with more physical activity may be key to better heart health in adolescents.

Experts suggest that kids get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day for optimal health and development. Why? Just like physical activity helps reduce cardiovascular risk in adults, regular exercise also helps improve heart health during childhood, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and promoting healthy weight. But just as physical activity helps promote good health, research shows that the opposite may also be true. Living a more sedentary lifestyle—playing video games or staring at a computer for hours on end each day—could negatively affect cardiovascular health during childhood.

What experts wonder is how different combinations of physical activity and sedentary time affect heart health in children. Does exercising daily counteract any negative effects of sedentary time? Or does excessive sedentary time negate the health benefits that physical activity promotes?

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that increased physical activity is associated with better heart health, regardless of sedentary time. This study pooled data from 14 different studies and analyzed cardiovascular risk factors such as waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar in relationship with physical activity and sedentary time. Among nearly 21,000 children ages 4-18 included in the study, researchers found that increased physical activity was associated with fewer cardiovascular risk factors, while sedentary time was not significantly associated with better or worse heart health.

These findings highlight the importance of regular exercise early in life and support the many national and international initiatives promoting increased physical activity in children. But they also show that balance is key to heart health. While inactivity associated with TV and video games is intrinsic to the modern day culture, this doesn’t have to spell poorer health for our children. Instead, by counteracting sedentary time with increased physical activity, children can achieve optimal heart health during adolescence and build a strong foundation for better health later in life.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why do children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health?

  • Although experts do not know exactly how much exercise children need to minimize cardiovascular risk, research shows that 60 minutes is the minimum amount of physical activity that children need to promote good health. Recent research shows that the more children exercise on a regular basis, the less likely they are to have cardiovascular risk factors, such as being overweight or having high blood pressure.
  • Based on this study, is sedentary time not bad for children's health?

  • While this study shows that exercise helps promote better health regardless of sedentary time, it does not mean that sedentary time does not impact health. Both children and families should still limit sedentary time as much as possible while increasing physical activity to promote heart health.

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