Background: Physical activity has long been proposed as an important modifiable cardiovascular risk factor in adults. We assessed whether physical activity already has an effect on childhood vasculature. Methods: In the Wheezing-Illnesses-Study-in-Leidsche-Rijn birth cohort, we performed vascular ultrasound to measure carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) and functional properties (distensibility, elastic modulus) at 5 and 8 years of age. Child typical physical activities were inquired using a questionnaire completed by parents. Linear regression was used with physical activity level, expressed as a standardized value of time-weighted metabolic equivalent (MET) as the independent variable and vascular properties as dependent variables with further confounder adjustment and evaluation for possible body mass index and sex effect modifications. Results: In 595 5-year-old children and in 237 of those who had reached the age of 8 years, we did not find statistically significant associations between total time-weighted MET and each vascular parameter, neither in pooled nor stratified analysis. However, sport activities were associated with thinner cIMT (-3.20 mm/SD, 95% CI-6.34,-0.22, p=0.04) at 5 years of age; a similar pattern was seen for organized sport. This effect was strongest in children in the highest body mass index tertile (-5.38 mm/SD, 95% CI-10.54,-0.19, p=0.04). At the age of 8 years, higher sport level tended to be associated with higher vascular distensibility (2.64-103 kPa/SD, 95% CI-0.18, 5.45, p=0.07) although this was not statistically significant. Conclusions: Sport activity may have beneficial effects on arteries of young children, particularly those with higher relative body weight.
- Carotid intima-media thickness
- physical activity
- vascular stiffness