Overweight boy with fast food on sofa at home

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KUOPIO, Finland — Being a couch potato as a kid could put your heart in serious danger later in life. A new study warns that children who lead a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to experience strokes or heart attacks in their later years.

The research revealed that children who lack physical activity are at a higher risk of developing high cholesterol in their early adulthood, leading to heart health complications by their mid-40s. It has been previously established that high cholesterol levels in childhood are linked to early indicators of heart disease in one’s mid-20s and a heightened risk of premature cardiovascular mortality in the mid-40s.

Numerous clinical trials focused on reducing cholesterol levels in the young have shown little to no success, according to Finnish researchers.

“We are seeing for the first time that LPA from childhood may be better than MVPA at reversing the adverse effect of sedentary time on elevated cholesterol and dyslipidemia. An increase in both muscle and fat mass is physiological phenomenon in youth, so it is astonishing that the increase in fat mass significantly decreased the effect of MVPA on lowering cholesterol. An excessive increase in fat mass is never healthy, and future research may examine optimal approaches to prevent it,” says Andrew Agbaje, an award-winning physician and pediatric clinical epidemiologist at the University of Eastern Finland, in a media release.

Teen sitting on couch looking at smartphone
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Dr. Agbaje adds that engaging in light-intensity physical activities from childhood is five to eight times more effective in reversing the negative impact of a sedentary lifestyle on high cholesterol than moderate-to-vigorous activities. The study involved analyzing activity tracker data and repeated cholesterol measurements in English children starting at the age of 11, and following up with them for 13 years. The researchers observed an increase in sedentary behavior from about six hours per day in childhood to nine hours per day in young adulthood. This increase accounted for nearly 70 percent of the overall rise in cholesterol levels.

Conversely, light physical activity decreased from six hours per day in childhood to three hours in young adulthood. Despite this decrease, it was still cumulatively linked to lower total cholesterol levels. The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, also found that an increase in total body fat slightly mitigated the positive effects of light physical activity on cholesterol levels.

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity remained relatively stable, averaging around 50 minutes per day from childhood to young adulthood. However, this level of activity was only associated with a reduction in total cholesterol levels. Dr. Agbaje notes that increased total body fat significantly lessened the benefits of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in reducing cholesterol.

“It is quite unprecedented that increased sedentary time from childhood contributed two-thirds of the increase in cholesterol level before mid-twenties. We have also recently reported that LPA promotes healthy hearts and lowers inflammation in the young population better than MVPA. These findings emphasize that LPA may be a critical tool in primordially preventing elevated cholesterol and dyslipidemia from early life, and in this regard, it could be considerably more effective than MVPA,” the researcher says.

“Although the World Health Organization has recommended that children and adolescents should accumulate on average 60 minutes of MVPA per day and reduce sedentary time, guidelines on engaging in LPA in the young population are still lacking. Our recent studies are now contributing novel evidence on the incredible health importance of LPA. Therefore, public health experts, pediatricians, and health policymakers should encourage more participation in LPA from childhood,” Agbaje concludes.

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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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