Teen Girls’ Fitness: More Crucial than Fat Concerns

Promoting teen girls’ fitness can hinder cardiovascular disease in the future, according to a new report in the medical journal Obesity Review.

Fitness is the ability to perform physical activities that require aerobic capacity, endurance, strength and/or flexibility. It is a significant marker for future health. Genetics plays a role, but exercise is the primary driver of fitness.

In the new study, UK researchers evaluated 174 boys and girls between 12 and 19. Compared to their peers, each participant had a body mass index (BMI) in the 95th percentile (meaning obese). BMI uses height and weight to estimate a person’s body fat.

The researchers used pulse analysis on the teens to check for arterial stiffness as a marker for blood vessel health. Participants also performed a three-minute step-up test to assess fitness levels. The study revealed that arterial stiffness was associated with lack of the teen girls’ fitness–regardless of BMI.

Normal, healthy blood vessels are flexible, which helps to moderate blood pressure. Arterial stiffness is a risk factor not only for cardiovascular disease, but also dementia and death. Reducing it can positively influence health as life progresses, according to an earlier study in the American Heart Association’s journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. That same study reported that improving arterial elasticity can also improve the lives of patients with diabetes and those with chronic kidney disease.

Exercise reduces arterial stiffness, so encouraging physical fitness in teen girls, rather than focusing solely on reducing excess weight, makes a healthier future more possible.

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