By Peter Laird, MD
Exercise is one of the most important cardiovascular health interventions at any age and is an important adjunct for reducing the risk of CKD later in life. Diabetes, HTN and obesity are all related to the trend in American society to not engage in enough physical activity to maintain heart health. An interesting and yet disturbing study shows that physical activity actually declines for young adults while in college:
Overall, there was a 24% decrease in physical activity (equivalent to 1 MET/day) across the 12-year period. A significant three-way time X gender X educational trajectory interaction (coefficient= −0.189, SE=0 .09, p<0.05) emerged in the physical activity analysis; main effects in time2 (coefficient= −0.114, SE=0.01, p<0.01) and time3 (coefficient=0.028, SE=0.01, p<0.01) were significant for binge drinking and smoking, respectively.
Physical activity decline was evident during young adults' transition into early adulthood, with declines being steepest among men who entered a college/university. Although there were increases in several health-risk behaviors during adolescence, individuals tend to grow out of binge drinking and smoking as they mature.
I read this report in somewhat of dismay remembering my own time in college where I ran cross country and track and engaged in my most physically active years, even more so than in high school where I played football in my senior year. As a child growing up in Alaska, we were essentially outside playing, riding bikes, hunting, fishing and playing neighborhood games with up to 50 other kids at the same time. We only stayed indoors on the very coldest of days even when we lived in Nome Alaska.
Today's children start out with a markedly reduced level of physical activity from the age of 12 and to witness a study documenting that this level of physical activity sharply declines during the college years does not bode well for reducing the number of patients entering the ESRD program later in life. Sadly, there appears to be little that the health care industry can do to reverse this with the failure of dozens of programs over the last two decades. Society is no longer able to allow children to run around town unsupervised as we did just one generation ago if for nothing more than their own safety in this changing world.
The only hope in many ways is for parents to recognize the challenge to imbue their children with the opportunity and the desire to be physically active from an early age. Turning off the TV and video games is still under their control. Unfortunately, many parents today use these devices as a domestic baby sitter starting the process of sedentary lifestyles from an early age. School systems are discarding physical education programs in exchange for more computer time. High fructose corn syrup permeates not only our snack foods and sodas, it is also in many of our processed foods popular today. Perhaps it is too late to turn back the hands of time, but it is certainly not too late for individuals to take action. In many ways, society is nothing more than individuals setting priorities and acting upon them in the first place. Truly, it all begins at home.