Jaakkola, T., Yli‐Piipari, S., Huotari, P., Watt, A., & Liukkonen, J. (2016). Fundamental movement skills and physical fitness as predictors of physical activity: a 6‐year follow‐up study. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 26(1), 74-81.
The purpose of this study was to examine the degree to which proficiency in fundamental movement skills and fitness levels at an early age predicted how physically active individuals are six years later in life. There is some evidence that indicates that involvement in physical activity (PA) in childhood contributes to a physically active lifestyle as an adult. At the same time, the most marked declines in PA levels occur between childhood to early adolescence. These researchers were interested in investigating why PA levels decrease during adolescence. So does being motor skilled at the age of 12 correlate with being physically active at age 18? If so, what should that mean to us in the field?
Researchers recruited a convenience sample of 224 students from two middle schools in Finland. The sample consisted of 149 females and 75 males with a mean age of 12.41 years. Tests of static balance, locomotion, and manipulative skills were administered twice, two weeks apart to ensure test reliability. Aerobic and muscular fitness indicators were obtained using the Finnish fitness test package. Six years later, when students were 18 years old, they completed an International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ), a tested measure of physical activity in students outside of school. Without getting too technical in this report, researchers controlled for previous levels of PA, gender, and BMI.
Results of the study found that among this sample, fundamental motor skill performance predicted METs (level of energy expenditure), light, moderate and vigorous PA levels. There was a direct correlation between motor skill proficiency and activity levels. The study also showed that moderate levels of health-related fitness at the younger age positively correlated with energy expenditure and moderate and vigorous levels of PA six years later. While there are some limitations to this study, the findings are not out of line with similar studies.
The authors contend that the findings of this study reinforce the importance of learning movement skills in childhood and the important role of schools in developing movement skills in children and adolescents. This provides support for other researchers who advocate for theoretically sound and long-term school-based interventions to improve students' fundamental movement skills.
So what does this mean to practitioners? Three challenges for programs seem appropriate. The first is to focus on helping students acquire movement proficiencies. If children have not acquired a wide array of motor skills (locomotion, striking, receiving, projecting, dribbling, body control and rhythms) at developmentally appropriate times, the probability of them adapting active lifestyles appears to be diminished. Second, and difficult as it sounds, this necessitates that physical education practitioners assess and document growth. While all students follow the same developmental pathway, the rate of development varies depending on various factors. It is imperative if we want to equip our constituency for an active lifestyle that we identify those who are lacking and provide the effective remediation that only a physical educator can provide. Finally, results from this study and those like it need to be conveyed to stakeholders. Use media that you already have and/or create new ones and share this important information to those the program serves.