Open Access Research article

Relationship of aerobic fitness and motor skills with memory and attention in preschoolers (Ballabeina): A cross-sectional and longitudinal study

Iris Niederer1*, Susi Kriemler2, Janine Gut3, Tim Hartmann1, Christian Schindler2, Jérôme Barral4 and Jardena J Puder5

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Basel, Birsstrasse 320b, 4052 Basel, Switzerland

2 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Basel, Socinstrasse 57, 4002 Basel, Switzerland

3 Institute of Psychology Basel, University of Basel, Socinstrasse 57, 4002 Basel, Switzerland

4 Institute of Sport Sciences, University of Lausanne, Bâtiments administratifs de Vidy, Route de Chavannes 33, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

5 Service of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, University of Lausanne, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Rue du Bugnon 46, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

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BMC Pediatrics 2011, 11:34  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-11-34

Published: 11 May 2011



The debate about a possible relationship between aerobic fitness and motor skills with cognitive development in children has recently re-emerged, because of the decrease in children's aerobic fitness and the concomitant pressure of schools to enhance cognitive performance. As the literature in young children is scarce, we examined the cross-sectional and longitudinal relationship of aerobic fitness and motor skills with spatial working memory and attention in preschool children.


Data from 245 ethnically diverse preschool children (mean age: 5.2 (0.6) years, girls: 49.4%) analyzed at baseline and 9 months later. Assessments included aerobic fitness (20 m shuttle run) and motor skills with agility (obstacle course) and dynamic balance (balance beam). Cognitive parameters included spatial working memory (IDS) and attention (KHV-VK). All analyses were adjusted for age, sex, BMI, migration status, parental education, native language and linguistic region. Longitudinal analyses were additionally adjusted for the respective baseline value.


In the cross-sectional analysis, aerobic fitness was associated with better attention (r = 0.16, p = 0.03). A shorter time in the agility test was independently associated with a better performance both in working memory (r = -0.17, p = 0.01) and in attention (r = -0.20, p = 0.01). In the longitudinal analyses, baseline aerobic fitness was independently related to improvements in attention (r = 0.16, p = 0.03), while baseline dynamic balance was associated with improvements in working memory (r = 0.15, p = 0.04).


In young children, higher baseline aerobic fitness and motor skills were related to a better spatial working memory and/or attention at baseline, and to some extent also to their future improvements over the following 9 months.

Trial Registration NCT00674544