Exercise now pays off later, study shows

Instilling habits at a young age is every parent’s goal – and now good health may be one of them.

A new study has found that the positive effects of regular exercise can pay off later in life. When 5-year-olds were active on a regular basis, they had fewer fat cells than their peers at ages 8 and 11, even if they were no longer exercising as much, says Kathleen Janz, a professor in the Department of Health and Sport Studies at the University of Iowa, who conducted the study.

“The things parents do to keep their kids active have a payback that is not only immediate – in the sense that they’re more tired, they have energy balance and they’re learning motor skills,” she says. “The payback happens even down the road when they’re older.”

Hundreds of studies have pointed to the benefits of children exercising, Janz says, but hers is one of the first to address these types of long-term effects. “The take-home for the parents is to start helping your kids be active even before you start sensing problems,” she says.

At this point, Janz isn’t sure exactly why this effect happens, though she has several theories. One possible reason is that people go through cycles when they’re more likely to accumulate fat cells. “You get greater bang for your buck at different periods of your life.”

For parents to capitalize on that, Janz suggests they follow the current government guidelines for the amount of exercise children should get, which is 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity each day. Even small changes can make a difference-every 10 minutes of regular exercise added to a 5-year-old’s routine will roughly translate to a third of a pound less fat at ages 8 and 11.

“That’s a pretty good trade off,” Janz says. “It’s absolutely clear that whenever you’re active, you’re going to enjoy a better metabolic profile.”

This effect is one that can be applied to children of all ages, Janz says. “It’s never too late.”

Laura Schocker

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