Heart health is not simply about having a strong heart muscle; a healthy cardiovascular system requires a healthy nervous system that regulates the heartbeat and supports efficient functioning whether a person is feeling calm or stressed. A new study from Finland shows that more physically active and fit children have better cardiac regulation than those who are less active and less fit.

Investigators assessed 377 boys and girls ages 6–9 years for heart rate variability, physical activity, sedentary time and aerobic fitness. The study showed that physical activity and fitness levels were associated with cardiac autonomic regulation. Lower aerobic fitness in boys and higher sedentary time in girls were most strongly linked with poorer functioning of the cardiac autonomic nervous system (ANS). Vigorous physical activity had a strong relationship with better cardiac ANS functioning. Study authors recommend that “all measures that get children to move must be supported.” These findings are significant for long-term health, since fitness in childhood affects fitness in adult life and creates a foundation for continued heart health.

The study is in the European Journal of Applied Physiology (2019; 119 [11–12], 2487–98).