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Kids Who Walk to School Have Healthier Hearts

Heart disease prevention starts during childhood, and the best way to help your child build a healthy cardiovascular system is to keep him active. One way to do this is to make sure he burns some calories getting to school in the morning.

A study, published in Medical News Today, shows that kids who walk to school instead of taking the bus are more resistant to the type of cardiac stress that can lead to heart disease later in life.

Kids walking to school have healthier hearts

Cardiac reactivity is a medical term that describes how much the heart speeds up and blood pressure levels rise in response to stress. It’s normal for heart rate and blood pressure to go up when the body is stress or challenged, but if the response is exaggerated or occurs in response to minor stressors, it could herald an increased risk of heart disease later in life.

Researchers found that kids who walked to school had lower cardiac reactivity scores when exposed to the stress of taking an exam than kids who rode to school in a car. On average, kids who rode to school had heart rate increases of eleven beats per minute during a short exam, while those who walked had an increase in heart rate of only three beats per minute – a significant difference.

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The changes in blood pressure were even more significant. Kids who rode to school had systolic blood pressure increases that were three times higher than kids who walked to school on foot. Walking to school seems to “train” the heart to deal more effectively with challenges.

The kids who walked to school also experienced less mental stress in response to taking an exam compared to the children who were escorted to school by car. These scenarios were reproduced in a laboratory using a treadmill and images of a neighborhood projected onto a screen to simulate walking to school and a comfortable chair with images of a neighborhood to mimic a ride to school.

Kids walking to school have more resilient hearts

Why is this decrease in cardiac reactivity so important? Researchers now know that heart disease begins in childhood, although the effects may not be seen until later in life. Staying active helps to reduce the heart’s response to stress, so it beats slower with less of a rise in blood pressure for a given level of stress. This may help to prevent excessive strain on the heart that’s a precursor to heart disease.

The bottom line?

Walking to school is a simple way to help children stay more active, but it isn’t the only one. All physical activity counts when it comes to reducing cardiac reactivity and the risk of heart disease. Encourage your child to stay off of the computer and spend time outdoors after school. Take family walks or bike rides – and give your child the task of walking the dog. Encourage him or her to participate in sports at school. All of these activities help to condition a child’s heart – and reduce the risk of heart disease later on.

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