Walking to School Makes the Grade for Heart Health Later in Life
Why is this important? Cardiovascular stress reactivity is the mean heart rate and blood pressure response to a given situation or stressor. High heart rate and blood pressure responses to stressful situations in children are associated with the development of cardiovascular disease later in life. Attenuating cardiovascular stress reactivity in children can reduce their risk. Because children are faced with many challenges throughout the school day that may evoke a stress response, such as peer pressure, exam taking, etc., finding ways to minimize their effects should be explored.
Investigators of the present study examined 40 children (20 males and 20 females) ages 10-14 years. The children were randomly assigned to one of two testing conditions: a simulated drive to school in which the students sat in a chair and watched a slideshow of images representing a ride through the neighborhood to the school; or, a simulated walk to school in which the children walked at a self-selected pace on a treadmill while wearing a backpack containing 10% of their body weight and viewed images that represented what would be seen on a walk through the same neighborhood to the school.
After a rest period, both groups of children answered a Stroop color-word test in which they were shown names of colors that were written in a different color than what the name described. The children had to identify the color of the letters without reading the word. Heart rate and blood pressure were measured and the children were asked to rate their level of stress using a Likert scale.
The results indicated that the walking group experienced a reduced perception of stress and demonstrated significanlty lower heart rate and systolic blood pressure responses to the Stroop test when compared to the group that underwent the simulated ride to school. These findings offer one solution to reduce the cardiovascular stress reactivity of children in the school setting. The researchers concluded that walking to school can attenuate the heart rate and blood pressure responses of children to challenges faced at school which, in turn, can have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
Source of Information:
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2010, pp. 1609-1615, "Effect of a Simulated Active Commute to School on Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity," Lambiase, M.J.