Childhood obesity rates are not only steadily climbing in the U.S and the rest of the world, but reaching epic proportions. In a report released last Friday by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), studies show that a moderate amount of physical activity can alleviate high blood pressure levels commonly associated with overweight children. This is good news for many parents as currently 33 percent of children in the U.S are overweight, and 17 percent are obese.
In a press conference held Friday, December 11, in New York, Dr. Nathalie J. Farpour-Lambert from the University Hospital of Geneva outlined the trials that recently took place and were published in the "Prevention and Outcomes" Quarterly Focus Issue of the JACC.
In the study, researchers designed an exercise program to determine what effects a physical activity program would have on blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and vascular reactivity. Forty-four kids ages 6-11 participated, and results found that as little as 60 minutes per day of activity just three times a week has significant benefits.
The overall goal of the exercise program was, above all, to have fun, so researchers combined interactive activities such as ball games and swimming into the regimen. Structured exercise sessions were supervised by a gym teacher in an afterschool program and deliberately made enjoyable for the children. Each 60-minute session included 30 minutes of aerobic exercise followed by 20 minutes of strength work and 10 minutes of stretching and cool-down. At the end of the study, obese children had lowered their blood pressure, body mass indexes, and abdominal fat, while improving their fat-free mass and cardiorespiratory fitness.
What this means for overweight kids is that getting regular activity can reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function, whether it's playing soccer or walking and jogging. A very surprising part of the study was that no dietary changes were made. Children, according to Dr. Farpour-Lambert, should not be encouraged to lose actual weight since they are growing. Rather, the goal is to stabilize the weight as they grow and change.
Getting all kids into a regular weekly physical activity will not only help them improve their health, but also help define good habits that will last a lifetime. As with so many illnesses, prevention is key.