When it comes to prevention, starting early – and I mean early in life – is important. Childhood blood pressure (BP) tracks throughout life. This means that elevated BP at childhood is most likely to develop into hypertension in adulthood. It is therefore important that children’s BP be managed properly.
As part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children conducted in the UK, 5505 children aged 11 to 12 years old were followed up by monitoring physical activity and measuring BP. Physical activity was measured by an accelerometer or movement detector which the children wore around their waist for 7 days. Two BP measurements were taken during the 7-day period. This study is one of the very few to actually measure physical activity. It actually measured all normal daily activities that required movement in the vertical direction such as walking, jumping, and playing. In contrast, previous studies relied mostly on interviews and self-reports which were not always so accurate.
Their results: children who routinely engaged in physical activity are bound to have lower BP than their less active counterparts.
The average systolic BP was 104.8 mm Hg for boys and 106.0 mm Hg for girls. Children who engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity have on average 2 mm Hg and 1 mm Hg lower for systolic and diastolic BPs, respectively than those who didn’t.
What is surprising – and disturbing – is that low physical activity is the trend rather than the exception among these children.
“The median amount of time spent in moderate to vigorous activity was 25 minutes daily for boys and only 16 minutes daily for girls-well short of the recommended 60 minutes a day. Only 3% of the children (5% of boys and 0.5% of girls) met the guidelines for this hour of vigorous exercise per day.”
What they also found is that the total amount of exercise is more important in lowering BP than the intensity. Therefore, intense rigorous sports a couple of hours are not necessarily the best for children. Rather, it’s the regular, constant movements in active free play or daily routines such as walking or cycling to school that counts. What is not good and can increase children’s BPs are extended periods of lying down or sitting in the car, in front of a TV monitor or a computer screen.
“The main message of our study is that the more active children have lower BP at 11 years, and this could have public-health implications because BP tracks throughout life. Higher BP now is likely to mean higher BP as an adult,” according to one of the researchers Sam Leary of the University of Bristol.
As mother of two 5-year old boys, I can proudly say that my kids never lacked in physical exercise right from the start. Check out my list of strategies to keep kids active and moving.