The association between aerobic fitness and physical activity in children and adolescents: the European youth heart study
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The link between aerobic fitness and physical activity in children has been studied in a number of earlier studies and the results have generally shown weak to moderate correlations. This overall finding has been widely questioned partly because of the difficulty in obtaining valid estimates of physical activity. This study investigated the cross-sectional and longitudinal relationship between aerobic fitness and physical activity in a representative sample of 9 and 15-year-old children (n = 1260 cross-sectional, n = 153 longitudinal). The specific goal was to improve past studies using an objective method of activity assessment and taking into account a number of major sources of error. Data came from the Danish part of the European youth heart study, 1997–2003. The cross-sectional results generally showed a weak to moderate association between aerobic fitness and physical activity with standardized regression coefficients ranging from 0.14 to 0.33. The longitudinal results revealed a tendency towards an interaction effect of baseline physical activity on the relationship between changes in physical activity and aerobic fitness. Moderate to moderately strong regression effect sizes were observed in the lower quadrant of baseline physical activity compared to weak effect sizes in the remaining quadrants. In conclusion, the present study confirms earlier findings of a weak to moderate association between aerobic fitness and physical activity in total population of children. However, the study also indicates that inactive children can achieve notable increase in aerobic fitness by increasing their habitual physical activity level. A potential physiological explanation for these results is highlighted.