It's been documented that active kids tend to perform better in school, are less likely to gain excess weight, develop stronger muscles and bones, and much more. A new report published in Pediatric Exercise Science (2017. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/pes.2016–0168) adds improved arterial health to the list of benefits.

The arterial stiffness index measures arterial elasticity. Stiffness determines how hard the heart has to work to pump blood through the body. The stiffer the arteries, the harder the heart must work, which increases the chances of heart attack and/or stroke. In this study, scientists wanted to understand the impacts of physical activity and sedentary behavior on arterial stiffness in kids 6–8 years old.

The researchers recruited 136 children, whose arterial stiffness was measured by pulse contour analysis. The quantity and intensity of their physical activity were assessed via heart rate and movement sensor monitoring.

According to the study authors, there was an inverse relationship between arterial stiffness and daily physical activity levels. The threshold value for enough exercise was 68 minutes per day at a minimum of 5 METs (metabolic equivalent of task) or 26 minutes at a minimum of 6 METs. Children whose physical activity levels fell below these points had more arterial stiffness.

"It seems that the positive effects of physical activity on arterial stiffness require sufficient cardiovascular strain, and light physical activity does not provide that kind of stimulus," said study author Eero Haapala, PhD, from the University of Eastern Finland. "Moderate-to-vigorous exercise can also counterbalance the effects of sedentary time."

The researchers suggested that activities like games involving running, ball games, gymnastics and dance can yield the appropriate activity and MET levels to help children improve arterial health.