Open Access Research article

Effect of living area and sports club participation on physical fitness in children: a 4 year longitudinal study

Kathleen Golle1, Urs Granacher1, Martin Hoffmann1, Ditmar Wick2 and Thomas Muehlbauer1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Training and Movement Sciences, University of Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, House 12, D-14469, Potsdam, Germany

2 University of Applied Science in Sport and Management, Potsdam, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:499  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-499

Published: 23 May 2014



Cross-sectional studies detected associations between physical fitness, living area, and sports participation in children. Yet, their scientific value is limited because the identification of cause-and-effect relationships is not possible. In a longitudinal approach, we examined the effects of living area and sports club participation on physical fitness development in primary school children from classes 3 to 6.


One-hundred and seventy-two children (age: 9–12 years; sex: 69 girls, 103 boys) were tested for their physical fitness (i.e., endurance [9-min run], speed [50-m sprint], lower- [triple hop] and upper-extremity muscle strength [1-kg ball push], flexibility [stand-and-reach], and coordination [star coordination run]). Living area (i.e., urban or rural) and sports club participation were assessed using parent questionnaire.


Over the 4 year study period, urban compared to rural children showed significantly better performance development for upper- (p = 0.009, ES = 0.16) and lower-extremity strength (p < 0.001, ES = 0.22). Further, significantly better performance development were found for endurance (p = 0.08, ES = 0.19) and lower-extremity strength (p = 0.024, ES = 0.23) for children continuously participating in sports clubs compared to their non-participating peers.


Our findings suggest that sport club programs with appealing arrangements appear to represent a good means to promote physical fitness in children living in rural areas.

Motor performance; Youth; Primary school; Maturation