Preschool Children's Level of Proficiency in Motor Skills and the Level of Their Physical Fitness as Adolescents

By Reillo, Michelle; Vlahov, Eric et al. | The Sport Journal, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Preschool Children's Level of Proficiency in Motor Skills and the Level of Their Physical Fitness as Adolescents


Reillo, Michelle, Vlahov, Eric, Bohren, Judith, Leppo, Margaret, Davis, Diane, The Sport Journal


Introduction

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the year 2000, 64% of adults in the United States were overweight, depicting an epidemic of individuals at risk for health-related issues associated with obesity (6). As stated in Healthy People 2010, young citizens are potentially vulnerable for becoming sedentary with progressive age and a goal of the United States is to improve the health, fitness, and quality of lives through participation in daily physical activity (7).

Sedentary behavior is correlated with an increased incidence of cardio respiratory and endocrinologic disorders, including hyperlipedemia and Type II diabetes mellitus in children and adults (5). Immunologic dysfunction has likewise been associated with inactivity, and the reduction in the levels of circulating lymphocytes, particularly CD4 and CD8 cells, essential for the control of the development of malignancy, has been noted in sedentary patients (4). Eosinophilic proliferation, which is critical in the suppression of allergic reactions, has also been correlated with exercise (3). Further, hypokinetic activity is associated with the progression of cognitive and executive function decline in individuals with neurologic disorders such as Alzheimer's and multi-infarct brain syndrome (2). Minimal human research has been conducted regarding cognition and exercise in normative pediatric cohorts. However, animal research correlates increased neurogenesis and the proliferation of neuronal cells, components associated with increased memory and learning capabilities, with physical activity levels (8).

The embedding of motor patterns in the primary motor cortex occurs in infancy and the repetition of rudimentary movements provides the foundation for the development of progressively more complex motor activities (1). Physiological attributes are associated with primary motor cortex development which naturally occurs throughout the human growth and development cycles (2). The literature is bereft of research which explores the relationship between early childhood physical activities and maintained physical fitness levels. The purpose of this longitudinal research study was twofold: a) to determine if a relationship existed between the level of motor skill proficiency among children at pre-school and the level of physical fitness in adolescence and, b) to determine if the embedding of learned motor patterns associated with physical activity correlated with physical fitness longitudinally.

Methods

In 1988, the Test of Gross Motor Development (TGMD), which assesses locomotor and object control skills, was administered to 140 healthy preschool children, aged 4 to 6 years, who were purposively recruited from two day care centers in a large metropolitan city. In 1999, the AAHPERD fitness test, which has correlational validity with the TGMD (p < 0.01) and assesses cardiorespiratory, muscular/strength, flexibility, and body composition, was administered to 140 of the original subjects, aged 14 to 16 years. Data analysis was completed using multivariate statistical procedures.

Results

Results indicate that the level of proficiency in motor skills in early childhood is predictive and correlates with the level of physical fitness in adolescence (p < 0.001) (Tables 1-5). Specific physical attributes associated with locomotor and manipulative skills measured at baseline and in adolescence by the TGMD and AAHPERD indicate primary motor cortex development, evident in limb and forearm movement, muscle composition, and coordination required to longitudinally perform physical activities, such as running, skipping, galloping, etc. (Table 6). Development and progression of skill acquisition is individualized, requiring assessment and instruction relative to the child. Implications for curriculum development for the training of physical education professionals is suggested in light of the physiological and neurological aspects of skill development. …

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