Children who have good fitness levels during childhood and adolescence have better lung function when they grow up and become adults, a study has found.
In the first (and largest) study of its kind, a team of scientists have confirmed what they long suspected to be true - but had no evidence for - that your early years’ health does have a bearing on the rest of your life. In fact, it could go so far as to lower the risk of developing lung disease.
Thierry Troosters, president-elect of the European Respiratory Society, said: “It seems that regular sports in childhood and adolescence, ensuring development of peak exercise capacity, may be your lung-insurance for later.”
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK, around 2% of the population, making it the second most common lung disease nationwide after asthma.
And with prevalence increasing 27% in the last decade, and an ageing population that will make the problem worse, researchers are keen to pinpoint how preventative measures can start as early as possible and help reduce the burden of lung disease in the future.
Looking at 2,406 children from New Zealand and Denmark, the two groups were asked to take part in aerobic fitness tests. In Denmark, they were tested at age nine, 15, 21 and 29 using an exercise bike to see how much they could do before they were exhausted.
And in New Zealand the study asked people at 15, 26, 32, and 28 to do the same test.
The results showed that fitter children had better lung function and the more their fitness improved during childhood, the greater their lung capacity when they reached adulthood.
This linked remained even when considering height, weight, asthma and smoking. The results also showed a stronger effect in boys than girls.
“This provides another reason to make sure our children get fit and stay fit..."”
Professor Bob Hancox, respiratory specialist at the University of Otago, New Zealand, said: “We don’t know why fitness and lung function are linked but one explanation could be that fitter people have better respiratory muscle strength as well as other muscle strength.”
And he adds that looking into this further is difficult because “following children over many years is expensive and time consuming”.
“In the meantime, this provides another reason to make sure our children get fit and stay fit. Exercise and fitness are good for our bodies and this appears to be true for our lungs as well as other aspects of health.”
How can I help my child get fitter?
“Children do as you do,” explained Young. “If you sit and watch TV whilst telling your children to get off their bottoms and move, you are giving a mixed message.
“Educate your children about how important it is to move and feel their hearts beating.”
The NHS recommends parents find time every weekend to do something active with their children.
You could play frisbee or football in the park, go trampolining, try indoor rock climbing, roller skating, rollerblading or skateboarding. In winter, go ice skating.