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Sitting in childhood may accelerate premature vascular damage: study health news

Increased sitting time starting in childhood is associated with hardening of the arteries, a surrogate for premature vascular damage, according to a new study. However, light physical activity can help reduce the risk. The research was carried out in partnership with the University of Oxford, the Universities of Bristol and Exeter and the University of Eastern Finland, and the results were published in Acta Physiologica.

A previous study using the same data found that between childhood and adolescence, sitting time increases to about 6 to 9 hours per day, which increases the risk of obesity, dyslipidemia, inflammation and an enlarged heart. Researchers have identified arterial stiffness as a novel risk factor for childhood and adolescent obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and early heart disease. Aging also worsens arterial stiffness. Studies in adults show that high arterial stiffness, as opposed to natural stiffness, increases the risk of premature death by 47%. So far it remains unclear whether immobilization increases arterial stiffness independent of aging and known cardiometabolic risk factors.

Light physical activity (LPA) is now emerging as an effective method to reverse the deleterious effects of childhood sedentariness. However, whether long-term exposure to LPA from childhood reduces arterial stiffness has not been tested. This is because only a few studies have repeatedly measured arterial stiffness in healthy young populations.

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The current study is the world’s largest and longest follow-up accelerometer-measured gait behavior and arterial stiffness study using data from the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s. The study followed 1339 children aged 11 to 24 years. They wore accelerometer devices on their waists for 4–7 days at ages 11, 15, and 24, and measured arterial stiffness at ages 17 and 24. Their fasting blood samples were repeatedly measured for glucose, insulin, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. Blood pressure, heart rate, smoking status, socioeconomic status, and family history of cardiovascular disease were controlled for in the analysis.

Arterial stiffness is determined by carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity. During a 13-year follow-up, increased sitting time from 6 to 9 hours per day accelerated this velocity by 10 percent, indicating increased stiffness, and one in 1,000 adolescents was estimated to have severe vascular damage. On the other hand, engaging in LPA for at least 3 hours per day leads to hardening of the arteries and damage to blood vessels. Moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) did not reduce arterial stiffness, but increased it slightly due to physiological vascular wall adaptation caused by increased muscle mass. However, the MVPA-induced increase in arterial stiffness was at least threefold less than that caused by sedentary time.

“Our latest studies seem to emphasize that childhood sedentary behavior is more dangerous to health than previously thought,” said Andrew Agbaje, an award-winning physician and associate professor (docent) of clinical epidemiology and child health at the University of Eastern Finland. “Sedentaryness is the root cause of several disease risk factors such as obesity, high lipid levels, inflammation and hardening of the arteries. These intermediate risk factors and actual diseases can be combated by consuming at least 3 – 4 hours of LPA per day. Although the World Health Organization’s physical Activity guidelines do not yet cover LPA, however, public health experts, health policy makers, health journalists and bloggers, pediatricians and parents should encourage children to participate in LPA every day.”

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