Children who spend more than 75% of their time engaging in sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing computer games, have up to nine times poorer motor coordination than their more active peers, according to research published in the American Journal of Human Biology.
The study, involving Portuguese children, found that physical activity alone was not enough to overcome the negative effect of sedentary behaviour on basic motor coordination skills such as walking, throwing or catching, which are considered the building blocks of more complex movements.
“Childhood is a critical time for the development of motor coordination skills which are essential for health and well-being,” said lead author Dr Luis Lopes, from the University of Minho.
“We know that sedentary lifestyles have a negative effect on these skills and are associated with decreased fitness, lower self-esteem, decreased academic achievement and increased obesity.”
Dr Lopes’ team studied 110 girls and 103 boys aged nine to ten from 13 urban elementary schools and objectively measured the children’s sedentary behaviour and physical activity over five consecutive days with the use of accelerometers.
On average the children spent 75.6% of their time being sedentary, but the impact on motor coordination was found to be greater on boys than girls.
Girls who spent 77.3% or more of their time being sedentary were 4 to 5 times less likely to have normal motor coordination than more active girls. However, boys who were sedentary for more than 76% of their time were between 5 to 9 times less likely to have good or normal motor coordination than their active peers.
“It is very clear from our study that a high level of sedentary behaviour is an independent predictor of low motor coordination, regardless of physical activity levels and other key factors” said Lopes. “High sedentary behaviour had a significant impact on the children’s motor coordination, with boys being more adversely affected than girls.”
Until now there has been little research into the links between sedentary behaviour and motor coordination, but these findings reveal that physical activity did not counteract the negative effects that high levels of sedentary behaviour had on motor coordination.
“The results demonstrate the importance of setting a maximum time for sedentary behaviour, while encouraging children to increase their amount of physical activity,” concluded Lopes. “We hope that our findings will make a valuable contribution to the debate on child health and encourage future investigations on this subject.”