A new Finnish study found that boys with stronger motor skills — agility, balance and manual dexterity — at baseline exhibited higher cognitive scores throughout a two-year follow-up period compared to boys with poorer motor skills.

In contrast, the University of Eastern Finland researchers found no association between aerobic fitness or obesity and cognitive function in boys, a finding which differs from previous cross-sectional studies on the topic. A cross-sectional study compares different groups at a single point in time, like taking a snapshot.

In the new study, which took a longitudinal approach, researchers discovered that boys with higher aerobic fitness at study baseline were more likely to have poorer cognition during the two-year follow-up than those with lower fitness.

In a longitudinal study, researchers conduct several observations of the same participants over a period of time, sometimes lasting many years.

In girls, none of the above-mentioned factors was associated with cognitive skills. This may be due to biological or sociocultural differences between boys and girls.

Interestingly, boys with better motor skills at baseline had a smaller increase in their cognitive skills than those with poorer motor skills. In other words, the boys with poorer motor skills appeared to catch up by the end of the study.

“It is important to remember that these results do not necessarily reflect a causal relation between motor skills and cognition. Boys with poorer motor and cognitive skills at baseline caught up with their more skillful peers during the two-year follow-up,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr. Eero Haapala from the University of Jyväskylä. Haapala is also adjunct professor of Pediatric Exercise Physiology at the University of Eastern Finland.

The study investigated the long-term associations between motor skills, aerobic fitness, and body fat percentage and cognition in 371 children who were 6 to 8 years old at baseline. Motor skills were evaluated by agility, balance and manual dexterity tests; aerobic fitness was measured by a maximal cycle ergometer test; and body fat percentage was assessed with a DXA-device (dual X-ray absorptiometry), a technique for scanning bone and measuring bone mineral density.

Cognition was assessed by the Raven’s Matrices Test. Several confounding factors such as parental education and annual household income were controlled for in the analyses.

The findings are published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Source: University of Eastern Finland