THURSDAY, Feb. 1, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Yet another reason to get your child off the couch: Fit children have healthier lungs later, new research suggests.
"This study shows that children who are physically fit go on to have better lung function as young adults," said lead researcher Bob Hancox.
"We think that this could reduce the risk of them developing chronic lung diseases as they get older," said Hancox, a respiratory specialist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand.
Chronic lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are a leading cause of ill health around the world, the research team noted.
This study included more than 1,000 participants in New Zealand and more than 1,300 in Denmark. The New Zealanders had their fitness levels and lung function checked at ages 15, 26, 32 and 38. Similar assessments were done in Denmark at ages 9, 15, 21 and 29.
The researchers found that fitter children had better lung function. Also, the more their fitness improved during childhood, the greater their lung capacity in adulthood. The findings were stronger in males than females.
The results were published Feb. 1 in the European Respiratory Journal.
"We don't know why fitness and lung function are linked, but one explanation could be that fitter people have better respiratory muscle strength as well as other muscle strength," Hancox said in a journal news release.
The researchers will continue to assess the participants' fitness and lung function as they age.
"We need to keep studying these people to find out whether the association between fitness and lung function continues into later adulthood. If it does, improving and maintaining fitness could translate into important reductions in chronic lung disease," Hancox said.
Although the study can't establish a direct cause and effect relationship, Hancox believes the findings should motivate parents to get their kids moving.
"Exercise and fitness are good for our bodies, and this appears to be true for our lungs as well as other aspects of health," he concluded.
The American Heart Association has more on children and physical activity.