For Kids, a Little Exercise Goes a Long Way Fast to Prevent Disease

For Kids, a Little Exercise Goes a Long Way Fast to Prevent Disease

September 20, 2013



Studies by the Appalachian State University (ASU) Human Performance Laboratory at the NC Research Campus prove that when kids increase their level of physical activity, they experience positive health benefits quickly. Benefits like less body fat, increased muscular strength and reduced risk factors for major diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic and lifestyle-related disorders.

The ASU lab is led by David Nieman, DrPh, FACSM, ASU professor of health and exercise science. He is recognized as a pioneer and expert in exercise physiology and immunology. One area of his research is nutritional countermeasures to exercise-induced immune dysfunction. Examples of study findings published this year include enhanced polyphenolic absorption and metabolic afterburn related to exercise1 and the increased immune and inflammation response runners have compared to cyclists after intense exercise2.

Although Nieman works extensively with trained athletes and adult volunteers, two recent studies gave him an opportunity to look at the impact of physical activity on the health of children.

Summer Camp in China

BeiBei Luo from the Key Laboratory of Exercise and Health Science of the Ministry of Education, Shanghai University of Sport, is a visiting doctoral student working in the ASU laboratory. She is an author of the study entitled A 6-week Diet and Exercise Intervention Alters Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors in Obese Chinese Children aged 11 – 13 years published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science3. Nieman and others from the Shanghai Municipal Center for Students Physical Fitness and Health Surveillance are also co-authors.

In the study, 200 obese Chinese children were split into two groups. One group took part in a summer camp where  they exercised three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon doing a number of activities that included swimming, running, cycling and ping pong. The second group continued with their normal lives. Both groups maintained caloric intake of 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day. The average child in the summer camp lost six to eight kilos or 13 to 17 pounds.

“That is about the right amount for a growing child,” Nieman commented. “All of that exercise and weight loss combined to bring most of their risk factors down. Their blood pressure went down and insulin sensitivity improved. They were able to handle their glucose better. They had a reduction in total cholesterol. So the overall metabolic health of these children improved in just six weeks.”



In another study conducted as part of the Biomoto STEM Initiative, Nieman’s laboratory tested seventh and eighth graders using a sophisticated battery of physical fitness tests. They found a key concern for these youth is their body fat levels.

Biomoto is a program sponsored by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and funded by the Golden Leaf Foundation and combines biotechnology and motorsports to promote an understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts and careers. The program also encourages physical fitness.

The students from four school systems visited the NC Research Campus for physical fitness tests at the beginning and end of the school year. Nieman’s team measured body composition, muscular strength and aerobic and anaerobic fitness using systems like the BOD Pod, a lodi cycle ergometer and treadmills with metabolic equipment to measure VO2max. The fitness test battery was the same used with the pit crew of Hendrick MotorSports, one of NASCAR’s most successful teams.

The average age of the students was 13. Their body mass index (BMI) averaged 22.4 for boys and 22.7 for girls. Nearly half of the boys and four in ten girls were classified as overweight or obese using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention BMI-for-age growth charts. From the results of a total of 482 students (285 boys and 197 girls) who completed both rounds of tests in the first two years of Biomoto, Nieman’s team concluded that the higher the child’s body fat, the less fit they were, aerobically and anaerobically. Over the course of the program, the test scores showed a reduction in body fat and improved indicators of strength and overall physical health.

“The scores on all of the tests indicated that obesity at such a young age is already impacting the health and physical well-being of these children,” Nieman emphasized. “The good news is that most children, when they get properly supervised physical activity, whether it is organized sports or an old fashioned playtime, are very happy to continue it, and they benefit from it in terms of improved health. These types of health benefits can keep them from dealing with major health issues when they are older.”
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1 Influence of a Polyphenol-Enriched Protein Powder on Exercise-Induced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Athletes: A Randomized Trial Using a Metabolomics Approach. PlosOne, August 15, 2013. David C. Nieman, Appalachian State University (ASU) Human Performance Laboratory at the NC Research Campus, Kannapolis, NC (NCRC); Nicholas D. Gillitt, Dole Nutrition Research Laboratory at the NCRC; Amy M. Knab, ASU Human Performance Laboratory; R. Andrew Shanely, ASU Human Performance Laboratory;  Kirk L. Pappan, Metabolon; Fuxia Jin, Dole Nutrition Research Laboratory; Mary Ann Lila, NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute, NC Research Campus.

2   Immune and Inflammation Response to a 3-day period of Intensified Running Versus Cycling. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. September 18, 2013 [Epub ahead of print] Nieman DC, Luo B, Dréau D, Henson DA, Andrew Shanely R, Dew D, Meaney MP. Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University, NC Research Campus.

3   A 6-week diet and exercise intervention alters metabolic syndrome risk factors in obese Chinese children aged 11–13 years. Journal of Sport and Health Science. E-pub June 28, 2013. Beibei Luoa, Yang Yang, David C. Nieman, Yajun Zhang, Jie Wang, Ru Wang, Peijie Chen. Key Laboratory of Exercise and Health Sciences of Ministry of Education, Shanghai University of Sport, Shanghai, China; Shanghai Municipal Center for Students’ Physical Fitness and Health Surveillance, Shanghai, China; Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University, North Carolina Research Campus; 458th Hospital of Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Guangzhou, China.

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