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Sedentary behavior in childhood linked to heart damage

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News
Sedentary behavior contributed as much as 40% to the total increase in heart size between the ages of 17 and 24, researchers found. Photo by Pixabay
Sedentary behavior contributed as much as 40% to the total increase in heart size between the ages of 17 and 24, researchers found. Photo by Pixabay

Children and young adults who are couch potatoes could wind up with enlarged hearts, increasing their risk of heart attack, stroke and early death.

Sedentary behavior contributed as much as 40% to the total increase in heart size between the ages of 17 and 24, researchers found.

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Further, a lack of movement helped enlarge teens' hearts independent of other risk factors like obesity or high blood pressure, researchers found.

Childhood and teenage sedentary behavior amounts to a "ticking time bomb," researcher Andrew Agbaje said in a news release. He's an associate professor of clinical epidemiology and child health at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.

"There is growing evidence that childhood sedentariness is a health threat that needs to be taken seriously," he said.

On the other hand, children who regularly engaged in light physical activity reduced their increase in heart mass by 49%, researchers said.

"Light physical activity is an effective antidote to sedentariness. It is easy to accumulate three to four hours of light physical activity daily," Agbaje said.

Examples of light physical activity include outdoor games, walking a dog, running errands, walking and biking to stores or to school, taking a stroll in the park, playing in the forest, gardening, and casual games of basketball, soccer, golf, frisbee, he said.

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Kids who regularly worked out even harder tended to increase their heart mass by about 5%, as a result of making the muscle stronger.

For the study, researchers followed nearly 1,700 young people in the U.K. from 11 through 24 years of age. Participants wore motion-tracking devices on their waists for four to seven days at ages 11, 15 and 24, to get a sense of how much physical activity they got.

The kids started out spending an average six hours a day in sedentary activities, which increased to nine hours a day by young adulthood, researchers said.

Participants also underwent echocardiograms at 17 and 24 to measure their heart structure and function.

The study was published Tuesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

More information

The World Health Organization has more on sedentary children.

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