Heart Month: Young people and premature heart disease
Thursday, February 28, 2019

Young people at risk

Research in Ireland has shown that more than a third of 16-year-olds could be putting their hearts at risk. As a result, young people are being encouraged more than ever to get active and engage in regular exercise.

The Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge revealed some alarming statistics showing that 34% of 16-year-old girls and 41% of 16-year-old boys do not meet the minimum fitness levels required to quality for good heart health. These low fitness levels increase young peoples’ risk of developing other chronic heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The same study also found that these low fitness levels also apply to an even younger age group – with one in five (19%) first year boys and 8% of 12-year-old girls not meeting the minimum fitness levels required for heart health.

The good news, however, is that improvements can be made in a matter of weeks when an issue is tackled at this young age. Last year, over 30,000 students participated in the 6 week Irish Life Health School Fitness Challenge, with first year students showing on average an 8-10% improvement in their fitness levels over this period. This year, the number has risen to 172,000.

group of young people exercising outdoors together to avoid premature heart disease

The importance of improving our heart health

Professor Niall Moyna, Head of the School of Health and Human Performance, Centre for Preventative Medicine in DCU stated that we as a nation really cannot ignore the fact that over one third of our 16-year-olds are now at risk of developing premature cardiovascular disease.

The impact this would have on their long-term health and on our health care system as a whole would be detrimental. Professor Moyna goes on to say that this progressive decrease in fitness seen in the younger generation is alarming and should be a wake up call for parents, health professionals and the young people themselves.

However, there is some good news. Substantial improvements in fitness levels can occur after as little as 6 weeks of exercise, with low-fit teens benefiting the most.

Olympian ambassador of the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge since 2016, Thomas Barr, weighed in on the matter, saying that it seems that cardiovascular exercise has almost become “uncool” among young people and more of a focus is being put on resistance training instead. Cardiovascular exercise is extremely beneficial for your heart health, your wellbeing, keeping your weight at a healthy level and boosting concentration.