Cardiopulmonary Exercise Performance in the Pediatric and Young Adult Population Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Pediatr Cardiol. 2022 Dec;43(8):1832-1837. doi: 10.1007/s00246-022-02920-1. Epub 2022 May 3.


Physical activity (PA) decreased and sedentary behavior (SB) increased in the pediatric population during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. We examined the effects of PA and SB on cardiopulmonary exercise performance in children, adolescents and young adults both with and without underling cardiac disease, and hypothesized that there will be a change in aerobic and physical working capacity during the pandemic. This was a single-center retrospective longitudinal cohort study in patients age 6-22 years who underwent serial maximal cardiopulmonary exercise stress testing before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Metabolic variables were obtained; PA and SB data were extracted from clinic notes. A total of 122 patients (60% male) underwent serial exercise testing with a median age of 14 years at the first CPET. Predicted peak aerobic capacity significantly decreased among both females and males during the pandemic, even after adjusting for changes in somatic growth. There was no significant change in physical working capacity during the pandemic. Patients who were more aerobically fit experienced a greater decrease in aerobic capacity during the pandemic compared to those less fit. In conclusion, cardiopulmonary exercise performance, notably aerobic activity, decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic in children, adolescents and young adults compared to pre-pandemic values. This decline was most notable in those with the highest pre-pandemic aerobic capacity values and was independent of somatic growth or changes in BMI. This study has public health implications and demonstrates the importance of PA on overall cardiovascular health.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cardiopulmonary exercise test; Pediatrics; Physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pandemics*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult