DCU researchers have found that the proficiency of children in fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, skipping and hopping could contribute to overall healthier outcomes in later life including a reduced risk of heart disease and obesity.
In a paper published in the European Journal of Sports Science, researchers examined the relationship between fundamental movement skills (FMS) and health related fitness components (HRF) such as flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, body composition, muscular strength and endurance.
The results suggest that improving fundamental movement skills in children could predict improvements in body composition by up to 25%, in muscular strength by up to 50% and positively impact cardiovascular endurance by over 16%. Fundamental movement skills are regarded as the 'building blocks' for more advanced movement that allow children to participate in physical activity.
The research team found that where children exhibited a high degree of proficiency in fundamental movements skills. They also had similarly high scores in the health related fitness components.
The study is the first and largest of its kind to examine the specific relationship between fundamental movement skills and health related fitness components across the full range of primary school children aged 5-12. The team assessed over 2,000 children as part of the Moving Well Being Well project.
Children took part in a range of age-appropriate activities that examined their muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and body composition.
The results show that the relationship between fundamental movement skills and the individual health related fitness elements are dynamic, with some components playing a more important role than others as children age. These findings show that children with a higher mastery of these basic movement skills are more likely to be fitter as they progress out of childhood.
This study has now found evidence to demonstrate that where there are good fundamental movement skills, there are also positive health related fitness components. All play a crucial part in children's engagement in physical activity and as such are key to the future success in the battle against childhood inactivity.
Speaking about the findings, Dr Stephen Behan said: “Simply put, if we can equip children with the basic skills to move and partake in any activity they wish, we will be giving them the tools to be active for life. On top of this, we now know that we will also be indirectly impacting their health related fitness, which in turn will lead to health benefits such as decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased risk of obesity, increased bone density, increased mental health and much more. The link between positive health outcomes and most health related fitness components is clear, therefore the importance of improving HRF levels across childhood, and the methods to do so, should not be overlooked.”
Prof Noel O’Connor, CEO Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, said: “Once again this project showcases the ability of SFI Research Centres to effectively bring together teams of multidisciplinary researchers to carry out impactful research for the public good. This work programme was only made possible by bringing together the world class expertise in fundamental movement skills in DCU's School of Health and Human Performance, the data engineering, data governance and analytics expertise in Insight and the GAA's national reach into our primary schools.
"The result of this collective effort is another significant step forward in addressing a key challenge facing the health and wellbeing of our children and by extension of Irish society at large.”
Shane Flanagan, GAA’s Director of Coaching and Games Development, said: “The achievement of this latest milestone for the Moving Well Being Well project teams is timely for the GAA as we will soon be launching our new player pathway framework. The pathway is based on the FTEM Framework and its purpose is to support player development by providing the right support at the right time for the player.
"In partnering with DCU we now have evidenced based research and now brilliant resources to ensure the child in the participation phase of our pathway experiences an environment that focuses on physical literacy and helping children learn basic movement skills and having fun. Acquiring these skills through the delivery of our club and school programmes will help these young participants remain involved in sport and physical activity for life. Key to this will be the coach/teacher and we will be using the research to inform our coach education framework.”
Ger O’Connor, Games Manager Dublin GAA, said: “Developing physical literacy is one of the greatest gifts we can give the child. What is good for the child will be good for the player and in turn will be good for the team. The key to developing physical literacy is fun, and parents are the key educators.”