WARSAW — Here’s one more reason to make sure your kids don’t become couch potatoes. New research from the Medical University of Warsaw reports that children with higher levels of daily physical activity are much less likely to contract upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold.
The Polish research team assessed 104 children living in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, between the ages of four and seven to reach these conclusions. Physical activity levels among the kids were measured, along with any symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, between 2018 and 2019. Participating kids wore a pedometer armband all day and night (24 hours) for a total of 40 days. This allowed researchers to track both their activity levels and sleep duration.
Meanwhile, the parents of those children also reported any symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections among their kids, such as sneezing or coughing, via daily questionnaires for 60 days. Next, using a second survey, the parents also provided information on their children’s vaccinations, participation in sport, number of siblings, and any exposure to smoking or pet hair.
Sign your children up for sports — to protect them from upper respiratory infections!
The scientists report that as the median daily number of steps taken by children during the study period increased by 1,000, the number of days that they experienced symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections decreased by an average of just over four days. Moreover, children taking part in three or more hours of sports per week usually dealt with fewer days of respiratory tract infection symptoms than those not regularly playing sports.
More exercise at the start of the study was associated with fewer days of respiratory tract infection symptoms during the next six weeks. Among one cohort of 47 children whose average daily number of steps was 5,668 during the first two weeks of the study period, the combined number of days during the next six weeks that these children experienced upper respiratory tract infection symptoms was 947. But, among another group of 47 other kids whose initial average daily steps came out to 9,368, the combined number of days during the following six weeks that they dealt with respiratory symptoms was 724. No associations were noted between respiratory tract infection symptoms and sleep duration, siblings, vaccinations, or any exposures to pet hair or smoking.
The research team theorizes more exercise may help lower infection risk by reducing the number of inflammatory cytokines (which are linked to chronic inflammation and disease) and by promoting robust immune responses involving T-helper cells. Skeletal muscles may also be involved by releasing small extracellular vesicles that modulate immune responses post-exercise.
All that being said, study authors stress that further research is warranted to more thoroughly investigate these potential mechanisms in children. Moreover, this study was observational in nature, and thus can not facilitate any final conclusions about a causal relationship between physical activity levels and susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infections.
The study is published in Pediatric Research.