Node Smith, ND

We don’t normally think about teenagers being at risk for heart disease. Youth often holds a certain assumption that the body is healthy, and will continue to be that way simply because its young. To a certain degree this is true, the young body is incredibly resilient. However, just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so too, the disease processes that plague our bodies in later life, begin when we are in our youth. In addition, the lifestyle conditions of our youth have become incredibly disease promoting, with high amounts of sugar, sleeplessness, environmental toxins, and emotional trauma becoming the new normal. Lack of exercise, nutritious diet, and social support also play a huge role in disease progression occurring at younger and younger ages.

Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity Recommended for 5-18 year olds

These factors underlie the reasons that new guidelines are being promoted for adolescent activity. Current guidelines from the NHS say that individuals between the ages of 5 and 18 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day to improve current and future health. However, new research has shown that there is a discrepancy between the effects of moderate and vigorous exercise.

Moderate Exercise Gets Heart Rate Up Sans Sweat or Changes in Breathing Patterns

An example of moderate exercise would be brisk walking; an activity that gets the heart rate up but does not cause a lot of sweating or changes in breathing patterns. Vigorous exercises are things that leave a person out of breath, such as a team sport, or running around on a playground. In more technical terms, moderate exercise is defined as using 3 times the energy used at rest, and vigorous exercise is using at least 6 times that energy.

Vigorous Activity Significantly Lowers Risk Factors

The study found that only vigorous activity significantly lowers risk factors that increase the chances of future cardiovascular disease – body mass index (BMI) and waist size. Poor cardiovascular and pulmonary function and muscular fitness (which are partly genetic, but also enhanced by exercise) are linked closely to risk factors for future heart disease than anything else.

Nutrition Adolescence Study

The study used data from the Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence study. The purpose of the study was to see if there were any major differences between moderate and vigorous activity regarding cardiovascular health – these 2 activity levels have historically been grouped together. Moderate activity has benefits. However, in specific relation to lowering risk factors for heart disease, it seems that higher intensity activity makes a difference.

Additional Findings from the Study

The results of the study also found a strong association between time spent watching TV and risk factors for developing heart disease and diabetes later in life. Cardiovascular disease includes heart attack, angina, congenital heart disease, stroke and coronary heart disease.

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash


Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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