Longitudinal Associations of Fitness, Motor Competence, and Adiposity with Cognition

Eero A. Haapala, Niina Lintu, Juuso Väistö, Tuomo Tompuri, Sonja Soininen, Anna Viitasalo, Aino-Maija Eloranta, Taisa Venäläinen, Arja Sääkslahti, Tomi Laitinen, Timo A. Lakka
  • Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, October 2018, Wolters Kluwer Health
  • DOI: 10.1249/mss.0000000000001826

Does motor skills or aerobic fitness boost children's cognitive functions?

What is it about?

Poor motor skills, low aerobic fitness, and overweight and obesity may impair brain and cognitive development in children but few studies have investigated it in a longitudinal study over 2-year period. In our longitudinal study, we found that boys with better motor skills at the baseline also had higher cogntive performance over 2-year period than other boys but same associations were not observed in girls. Surprisingly, children with low aerobic fitness or high body fat percentage had comparable cognitive performance than their peers with high fitness and low body fat percentage. The results also showed, that boys with poorer motor and cognitive skills at baseline reached the cognitive performance level of their more skilful peers.

Why is it important?

Cognitive performance is important in learning and academic achievement. Our results showed that motor skills were more strongly associated with cogntive performance than aerobic fitness and body fat percentage in boys. It is important to remember that these results do not necessarily reflect causal relation between motor skills and cognition. These results may suggest that being physically active in various ways during early childhood may improve not only motor skills but also cognitive performance. Alternatively. these results may reflect differences in physical and cognitive maturation between children.


Dr. Eero Haapala
University of Jyväskylä

One of the most important articles I have published. I hope that our findings will provoke new research ideas and discussion.

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