Exercise Healthy Living inflammation

Fighting heart disease: Starting with the children

In recognition of our family’s empty “Candy Cauldron,” what else would a heart doctor write about on Halloween?

Acquired heart disease in children? Say it isn’t so!

It used to be easy to skip over studies on heart issues in children and adolescents. Come on. Kids are health. They are nimble, twitchy, energetic, and definitely not fatigued. Everyone over the age of forty longs for what the youth own. (Racing against with teens in an elite bike race only reinforces these ideas.)

But that was then, this is now. Our youth are no longer gifted health. They too, are immersed in society’s progress. Children can no longer ride or walk to school; it’s not safe. As not only are modern neighborhoods maladapted for human-powered locomotion, but walking, running or cycling to school is discouraged because the kids might get rained on, or cold. And of course, when the they arrive at school, warm and dry, our educators tell them life is so (much more) complicated that there’s hardly time for gym class, or daily exercise. (No one tweeted the education PhDs studies showing exercise increases the size of the hippocampus–a section of the brain responsible for learning.)

As an advocate for healthy living and prevention-as-the-best-treatment, I believe the secret to turning around our healthcare consumption crisis depends on tipping the kids to health. Think generational change. AF doctors and bike racers believe in all things youthful. Need some examples: how about Facebook, smartphones and iProducts?

I realize, this sounds a bit…like a blog? Perhaps.

But even if you dismiss the idea that kids hold wisdom, it’s just too sad to let what’s happening to adults happen to the children. OMG. Don’t let kids get fat, or lazy, or diabetic, or hypertensive. Or heaven forbid, don’t let kids develop endothelial dysfunction–sick arteries.

That’s why heart disease studies on kids hit so hard:

From Finland, (where else?). The title is a little heavy: Association of Physical Activity With Vascular Endothelial Function and Intima-Media Thickness

Researchers correlated measures of arterial health in adolescents with leisure time activity. With simple ultrasound measurements (no radiation or risk), they were able to study how well arteries dilate (elasticity) or how thick the aorta wall is.  Not surprisingly, they report two important findings in adolescents:

  • Physical activity is favorably associated with healthier (more elastic) arteries.
  • A moderate increase in physical activity prevented the thickening of major arteries.

They conclude therefore,

A physically active lifestyle seems to prevent the development of subclinical atherosclerotic vascular changes in healthy adolescents.

Take a deep breath; reread that. Exercise prevents vascular changes in healthy adolescents.

Folks, the words “vascular changes” and “adolescents” should never be mentioned in the same sentence.

Studies like this should be our wake up call. We need the children to be healthy. It is their default. For if the next generation fails in health, that would be pessimistic.

Smart people need to enroll kids in our struggle for better health; harness their energy; embrace their default, which of course is to play, and learn. Never, ever, quash the innately healthy behaviors of children.

Left alone, kids will play, socialize, eat just enough, sleep and strive to learn new things.

Now there’s a treatment to try for atrial fib, high blood pressure and coronary disease.



4 replies on “Fighting heart disease: Starting with the children”

While it may be a struggle in high achieving school districts, with the emphasis on studying and striving for that high college admissions test score, our children need exercise that is built into their schedule–be it during school or after school with academic demands that recognize the benefit of allowing children time for physical activity. A wonderful website that might have been mentioned in one of Dr. Mandrola’s earlier blogs is: showing that academic performance increases with physical activity.

As parents, we now must deal with big corporations encouraging young people not to exercise. A recent GM advertisement targeting college students encouraged them to give up their nerdy bikes in favor of buying cars and trucks. Fortunately, the ad was pulled quickly after numerous complaints. See more at

We stopped letting our daughter buy school lunches a while back when we discovered that a typical meal might be pizza, french fries and chocolate milk. When we asked at the middle school why this was so, the answers varied, but mostly it was because the schools no longer had staffs to cook lunches, and they were purchased from franchises, like pizza chains, and that they were getting foods the kids would eat, not what was a better choice.

There is more to the story, but it goes beyond this discussion and gets too political for this blog.

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