Physically active pre-schoolers remain fitter at school

Sports researchers of the University of Tartu studied children from Tartu at their transition from kindergarten to school and found that when a pre-schooler gets to engage in at least one hour of moderate or intense physical activity every day, it will have a positive effect on the child’s physical well‑being also a year later.

Cross-sectional studies conducted among Estonian pre-schoolers and schoolchildren have shown that children’s physical activity is limited and sedentary time is on the rise. This can lead to childhood obesity which affects physical and mental well-being.

Kirkke Reisberg, doctoral student at the University of Tartu Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy, encourages kindergartens and parents to take children outdoors more often, despite the weather, and engage them in active movement – outdoor games, ball games, cycling, jogging, walking –, as it fosters children’s development and ensures a good state of health.

According to international recommendations, children should engage in moderate to intense physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day. “In the kindergarten’s schedule, this means going outdoors about twice a day. For many kindergartens and also parents this may require getting out of their comfort zone, but this benefits the child’s health and has a positive effect on bone tissue, for instance,” said Reisberg.

“Research says that weight-bearing activities together with a sufficient intake of calcium significantly increases bone mineral density and is thus very suitable for preventing osteoporosis. Especially in pre-adolescents, physical activity in childhood increased bone growth by 0.6–1.7% a year,“ explained Reisberg.

Study involving children from Tartu

The positive effect of physical activity was also proven by the sports researchers’ study among 6–8-year-olds from Tartu and its surroundings who finished kindergarten and went to school. 147 children were involved in the study. The researchers aimed to understand the association between physical activity, body composition and fitness and whether and how it affects the child’s physique in transition from kindergarten to school.

In the study, the children’s body composition was determined and, to assess physical activity, the children were asked to use a hip-worn accelerometer for a week. Fitness was measured by various tests: standing long jump, hand dynamometer, shuttle run and endurance run.

The overall results indicated that increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary time in pre-school has a positive effect on the child’s body composition and fitness, including on the strength and agility of lower and upper limbs, also when the child is already at school.

Reisberg pointed out that even five minutes of physical activity brings significant benefits. “If five minutes of sedentary activities of 6.6-year-olds were replaced by high-intensity physical activity, the measurements done a year later showed that there is less fat in the child’s body, thus more fat-free mass, and the child’s fitness is remarkably better,” said Reisberg to illustrate the benefits of even a minor change.

Kirkke Reisberg introduced the study “Associations between physical activity, body composition and fitness in transition from kindergarten to school” at the research conference marking the anniversary of the Faculty of Medicine.

Further information:
Kirkke Reisberg
Doctoral student at the University of Tartu Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
+372 513 5996