Cardio fitness isn’t just for adults! A new cross-sectional study out of the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha in Spain set out to look at the link between cardio fitness and steps per day, health, and happiness in schoolchildren.
The study, “Steps per day and health-related quality of life in schoolchildren: the mediator role of cardiorespiratory fitness,” enrolled 501 boys and girls ages 9-12 (47% girls and 53% boys.) The study team provided each child with a wrist based wearable, the Xiaomi Mi Band 3, to track their daily step activity.
Along with the wearable, the study measured each child’s cardio-fitness and used a questionnaire to determine how happy the children were in different areas of their lives.
- The study measured cardio fitness using the 20-meter shuttle run test where the children run back and forth between two lines set 20 meters apart at increasing speed.
- The team measured happiness (quality of life) using the KIDSCREEN-27 questionnaire that examines five key metrics: physical wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, autonomy and relationship with parents, relationship and support from peers and other social supports, and finally, their school environment.
The researchers discovered that children who logged 9000 steps per day or more were happier, had higher levels of physical and mental wellbeing, and better heart and lung function (cardio fitness) than the children who logged fewer steps per day.
However, when the study team looked at other factors such as their gender, age, and mother’s education level, they found that these differences were not as significant.
The team also found that for every 1000 steps extra steps a child takes per day, that child’s cardio fitness improved. Additionally, as their cardio fitness improved, so did the child’s sense of happiness and wellbeing.
So it seems that there is indeed a link between cardio fitness, health, and happiness in school-aged children.
Why this study matters
Worldwide, children lead ever increasing sedentary lives, with more time spent at-rest than at physically engaging play.
The consequences of physical inactivity has led to a sharp increase in chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases in children and adolescents over the past few decades–a trend that, sadly, continues to this day.
Lack of physical activity is not limited to the body but is also associated with higher risks of mental health issues and unhappiness.
While getting the WHO’s recommendation of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity might seem out of reach for your child and your schedule, increasing physical activity by simply walking more steps is often a lot more doable!
And if your child already wears a smart watch or activity tracker (some smartphones also track steps), it’s easy way to count all your child’s steps. You might be surprised how many steps they already do per day!
What this study demonstrates is that increasing your child’s number of steps per day is a good way to not only improve their heart and lung function (cardio fitness) but also help them be happier in both body and mind.
While the study showed that 9000 steps a day was an ideal target, it also concluded that even smaller increments of 1000 step increases per day had positive results on the children’s physical and mental health.
This study demonstrates that even adding a short daily walk to your child’s routine can have a big impact on their health and happiness.
So try adding steps where you can, like parking a bit farther away from the shopping center or walking to the corner store instead of driving. There’s lots of ways to add some steps here and there throughout the day!