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Physical activity as a preventive measure for coronary heart disease risk factors in early childhood


Corresponding author: Arja Sääkslahti, MSc, University of Jyväskylä, Department of Physical Education, POBox 35 (L), 40014 Jyväskylän yliopisto, Finland. Tel: 358 14 2601876, Fax: 358 14 2601851, E-mail:


Physical activity causes acute physiological and long-term adaptive responses in the body. It is a protective factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) in adults. It has been assumed that children younger than 8 years of age may be in general active enough and there would be hardly any relationships between physical activity and CHD risk factors in early childhood. One hundred and fifty-five children (age 4–7 years) participated in this physical activity study during three consecutive years. Physical activity was examined twice a year with a special-purpose physical activity diary. CHD risk factors were measured during annual health care visits in the Specific Turku Coronary Risk-Factor Intervention Project (STRIP). We found that physical activity was related to CHD risk factors in early childhood. Among the girls, low-activity playing was related to a higher BMI. At the mean age of 6 years, high-activity playing was negatively related to serum total cholesterol (r=−0.32*) and positively to the high-density lipoprotein (HDL)/total cholesterol ratio (r=0.37**). The negative relationship between high-activity playing and triglycerides was highest (r=−0.32*) at the mean age of six. Among 4-year-old boys, playing outdoors correlated positively with serum HDL cholesterol concentration (r=0.29*) and the HDL/total ratio (r=0.35**). At the age of 5 years, physically active playing correlated positively with systolic blood pressure (r=0.25*). Playing outdoors and high-activity playing already have important health-maintaining effects in 4–7-year-old children. These positive effects differ between genders. (*P<0.05 **P<0.01)

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