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Kids with poor motor skills can still be physically fit, study finds

Researchers say staying physically active is key for all kids

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Photo (c) Images by Tang Ming Tung - Getty Images
Getting kids to exercise or engage in any kind of physical activity can be difficult for a lot of parents. But researchers from the University of Jyväskylä have found that poor motor skills aren’t a hindrance to kids’ physical fitness. In fact, they say kids with poor motor skills are just as likely as their peers to have exceptional physical fitness.

“The key message of our study is that even a child who is unfit can be motorically adept and the heart of a clumsier kid can be as fit as his or her more skillful peer,” said researcher Eero Haapala, PhD. “In addition, high levels of varied physical activity and reduced sedentary behavior are central to the development of motor skills and the prevention of excess weight gain since childhood.” 

Keeping kids physically active

The researchers assessed the motor skills, body fat content, and aerobic fitness levels of over 330 kids between the ages of seven and 11 involved in the study. To do the latter, the researchers had the kids take a cycle ergometer test, which requires them to slowly ramp up the intensity of a bicycle workout. As the kids exercised, the researchers measured their VO2 max, which is an indication of physical fitness based on how well the body utilizes oxygen during exercise. 

The study revealed that the kids’ motor skills didn’t play a role in their performance in the aerobic fitness test. Those with weaker motor skills were just as physically fit as other kids in the study who had stronger motor skills. 

The researchers also learned that the kids’ weight wasn’t an indication of their physical fitness. These findings align with those from another recent study, which found that kids being active is more important for their overall wellness than their body mass index (BMI). It’s important for kids to have the tools and information to understand the importance of exercise so they can establish healthy habits that last beyond childhood. 

“Our study clearly demonstrated that aerobic fitness is not linked to motor skills when body composition is properly taken into account,” Dr. Haapala said. “Also, aerobic fitness was not strongly associated with overweight or obesity. Therefore, it seems that the role of poor aerobic fitness as a risk factor for poor motor skills and excess body weight has been strongly exaggerated.” 

The researchers hope that these findings are encouraging for parents -- especially for those with clumsier kids; having a regular exercise routine is both important and possible for consumers of all ages. 

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