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Exercise Science and Child Health: A Tale of Many Journeys.

  • Author(s): Cooper, Dan M
  • et al.

Children are the most naturally physically active human beings; reduced physical activity is a cardinal sign of childhood disease, and exercise testing provides mechanistic insights into health and disease that are often hidden when the child is at rest. The physical inactivity epidemic is leading to increased disease risk in children and, eventually, in adults in unprecedented ways. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) biomarkers are used to assess disease severity, progress, and response to therapy across an expanding range of childhood diseases and conditions. There is mounting data that fitness in children tracks across the life span and may prove to be an early, modifiable indicator of cardiovascular disease risk later in life. Despite these factors, CPET has failed to fulfill its promise in child health research and clinical practice. A major barrier to more accurate and effective clinical use of CPET in children is that data analytics and testing protocols have failed to keep pace with enabling technologies and computing capacity. As a consequence, biomarkers of fitness and physical activity have yet to be widely incorporated into translational research and clinical practice in child health. In this review, the author re-examines some of the long-held assumptions that mold CPET in children. In particular, the author suggests that current testing strategies that rely predominantly on maximal exercise may, inadvertently, obfuscate novel and clinically useful insights that can be gleaned from more comprehensive data analytics. New pathways to discovery may emanate from the simple recognition that the physiological journey that human beings undertake in response to the challenge of exercise may be far more important than the elusive destination of maximal or peak effort.

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