Aerobic fitness is often considered an important indicator of children’s health. It is also associated with improved academic performance, better executive function, and greater brain volume. However, aerobic fitness has been closely examined and often studied with methods that do not fully represent it. According to a recent study by the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Granada, aerobic fitness performance measured by the 20-meter shuttle run test was associated with several different outcomes for brain health.
In the study, maximum oxygen uptake during a maximal treadmill test was objectively measured. In addition, fitness was assessed using a 20-meter shuttle run test. Brain health was examined using tests to measure cognitive function and learning, as well as brain imaging techniques.
The most consistent and clear associations with brain health outcomes were observed in the results of the 20-meter shuttle run tests. Children who performed well in the shuttle run had better executive functions and academic performance, as well as a higher overall volume of gray matter in the brain.
Additionally, the maximum oxygen uptake estimated by an equation based on the results of the shuttle run test was also associated with overall intelligence and cognitive ability. Somewhat surprisingly, the maximum oxygen uptake objectively measured during the treadmill test was not associated with any brain health outcomes.
It is important to note that the result of the 20-meter shuttle run is not only dependent on maximum oxygen uptake, but also on other factors such as body composition, motor skills, and motivation. Endurance performance that combines these characteristics may be most beneficial for brain health from childhood,“ says Dr. Eero Haapala, University of Jyväskylä.
„The significance of aerobic fitness for brain health is not fully understood, partly due to different methods. According to our study, maximum oxygen uptake does not seem to be very significant for the brain health of children,“ Haapala adds.
The study included 100 children aged 8 to 11 who were overweight or obese and participated in the ActiveBrains study, conducted in Granada, Spain, and led by Professor Francisco Ortega of the University of Granada, Spain. Professor Ortega is also a visiting professor at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä.
„These results have important implications, as the 20-meter shuttle run test is widely used in primary and secondary schools around the world, and several countries, such as Finland, have a nationwide fitness monitoring system that includes this test. Our results suggest that fitness assessments are informative and predictive for the brain health of the children studied, and these monitoring systems can identify regions with poorer fitness, which can serve as a basis for public health strategies,“ explains Professor Ortega.
University of Jyväskylä
Haapala, EA, et al. (2023). Which indicators of cardiorespiratory fitness are more strongly associated with brain health in overweight/obese children? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. doi.org/10.1111/sms.14549.