Physical Activity and Diet Parallel from Childhood to Adulthood

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found a positive link between leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) and diet from childhood to middle age.

The researchers assessed data on 3,537 participants (51% females) from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. All subjects were 9 to 18 years at baseline in 1980 and 33 to 48 years at the last follow-up in 2011. LTPA and FVC were both self-reported while LTPA was were identified using latent profile analyses, and subsequently the mean differences in FVC across the trajectories were studied. The researchers identified active, low-active, decreasingly and increasingly active trajectories for both genders, and additional trajectory describing inactivity was identified for females.

The results showed that persistent physical activity during leisure time from childhood to adulthood was associated with higher and more frequent fruit and vegetable consumption when compared to persistent low activity or inactivity. Moreover, the researchers observed that especially men who decreased their activity level exhibited a higher fruit and vegetable consumption than their less active peers until young adulthood, but no longer in middle age. Therefore, the researchers noted that decreasing leisure-time physical activity may be an indicator for an additional health risk, due to simultaneous detrimental changes in diet.

“In health care guidance, it would be important to acknowledge that these two health behaviors may facilitate each other,” says Irinja Lounassalo, doctoral student at the University of Jyväskylä in a press release about the study. “For example, when aiming to increase a person’s activity level, improving the quality of diet simultaneously might come rather naturally. This could be a way to promote more holistic well-being.”

“These results are in line with the National FINRISK Study, which shows how the trend in fruit and vegetable consumption in Finland has been rising during the 21st century,” says Lounassalo. “Nonetheless, not many manage to reach the recommended 500 grams of fruits and vegetables a day, but the course is promising.”

“To achieve favorable changes in these behaviors, cross-government and multisectoral approaches that facilitate the integration of physical activity and higher fruit and vegetable consumption in multiple daily settings are needed,” says Lounassalo. “Especially putting effort into adopting or maintaining a physically active lifestyle along with healthy dietary habits, starting from adolescence, would be important for health later in life.”