The debate about a possible relationship between aerobic fitness and motor skills with cognitive development in children has recently re-emerged, because of the decrease in children's aerobic fitness and the concomitant pressure of schools to enhance cognitive performance. As the literature in young children is scarce, we examined the cross-sectional and longitudinal relationship of aerobic fitness and motor skills with spatial working memory and attention in preschool children.
Data from 245 ethnically diverse preschool children (mean age: 5.2 (0.6) years, girls: 49.4%) analyzed at baseline and 9 months later. Assessments included aerobic fitness (20 m shuttle run) and motor skills with agility (obstacle course) and dynamic balance (balance beam). Cognitive parameters included spatial working memory (IDS) and attention (KHV-VK). All analyses were adjusted for age, sex, BMI, migration status, parental education, native language and linguistic region. Longitudinal analyses were additionally adjusted for the respective baseline value.
In the cross-sectional analysis, aerobic fitness was associated with better attention (r=0.16, p=0.03). A shorter time in the agility test was independently associated with a better performance both in working memory (r=-0.17, p=0.01) and in attention (r=-0.20, p=0.01). In the longitudinal analyses, baseline aerobic fitness was independently related to improvements in attention (r=0.16, p=0.03), while baseline dynamic balance was associated with improvements in working memory (r=0.15, p=0.04).
In young children, higher baseline aerobic fitness and motor skills were related to a better spatial working memory and/or attention at baseline, and to some extent also to their future improvements over the following 9 months.