Good childhood fitness tied to adult health

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A person’s fitness level in childhood seems to influence certain measures of their health as young adults, new study findings suggest.

The study followed Norwegian students and found that those who were more physically fit at age 13 were less likely to become obese or have elevated blood pressure in early adulthood.

By the age of 40, however, that effect had faded, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.

The findings, they say, indicate that childhood fitness may have an impact on later health, but adults still need to keep up their fitness levels as they age.

As people move into middle-age, other factors intervene to affect their health, so their fitness during their youth may become less and less important. “And this suggests that it’s important to keep up the good habits, like being active, also into middle-age,” lead researcher Dr. Elisabeth Kvaavik, of the University of Oslo in Norway, told Reuters Health.

She and her colleagues based their findings on 1,016 men and women who’d been followed since 1979, when they were 13 years old, on average. At that time, they’d been questioned about their exercise habits and had their fitness measured during testing on a stationary bike.

In general, the study found that the more fit participants were at age 13, the less likely they were to be obese or have elevated blood pressure in their 20s and early-30s.

There was no clear link between childhood exercise levels and adulthood health measures. However, Kvaavik said this is not surprising since the methods used to measure exercise levels — namely, questionnaires — are much less precise than the objective tests that measure a person’s actual cardiovascular fitness.

Fitness is not only a matter of exercise habits; genes play some role, for example. Nonetheless, since fitness is at least partly a reflection of physical activity, Kvaavik said, children who exercise regularly may help protect themselves from obesity and elevated blood pressure in early adulthood.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, January 2009.

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