A study with more than 2,300 adolescents highlights the benefits of physical activity for lung health. The results, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, show that less than 7% of children meet the recommended levels of exercise by the World Health Organization, that is, a minimum of 60 minutes a day.
Although physical activity has many recognized health benefits, its association with lung function in childhood or adolescence remains unclear. For the first time, a study by the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal) associated increased regular physical activity during childhood with better lung function in adolescent girls.
The research examined the relationship between physical activity, from childhood to adolescence, with pulmonary function in adolescence in more than 2,300 boys and girls in a UK birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children – ALSPAC – Children of the 90s).
The study analyzed physical activity at 11, 13 and 15 years of age – for seven days using the Actigraph measuring sensor – and lung function at 8 and 15 years of age, using spirometry. In addition, mothers and fathers answered questionnaires about sociodemographic, psychological and lifestyle factors.
The researchers defined three different trajectories of physical activity: low, moderate and high. “Girls who performed moderate and high physical activity had a greater ability to expire air (forced vital capacity) than girls who were in the low physical activity segment,” explains Célina Roda, first author of the study.
On the contrary, no association was observed in boys. One of the possible explanations is that “the acceleration of growth occurs earlier in girls than in boys , so that any effect of physical activity on lung function can be more easily observed at an earlier age in girls”, the researcher argues.
Little exercise in childhood
The results showed that less than 7% of children meet the recommended levels of physical activity of the World Health Organization, that is, a minimum of 60 minutes per day. At age 11, boys did a daily average of 24 minutes of physical activity and girls, 16 minutes. In general, boys were more active at all ages than girls.
“The high prevalence of sedentary lifestyle in the girls and boys of the study is worrying, a factor that, if extrapolated at the population level, could result in a considerable impact on lung function,” says Judith Garcia Aymerich, head of the Non-Disease program ISGlobal communicable and environment and study coordinator.
“Strategies aimed at promoting physical activity in childhood could result in great benefits for the population’s respiratory health,” he says. “It is necessary to carry out more studies that also take into account environmental factors, such as air pollution, to know if they influence the benefits of physical activity for lung function,” says Garcia Aymerich.