Increased aerobic fitness is associated with improved cognition, brain health, and academic achievement during preadolescence.
Purpose: In this study, we extended these findings by examining the relationship between aerobic fitness and an everyday real-world task: street crossing. Because street crossing can be a dangerous multitask challenge and is a leading cause of injury in children, it is important to find ways to improve pedestrian safety.
Methods: A street intersection was modeled in a virtual environment, and higher-fit (n = 13, 7 boys) and lower-fit (n = 13, 5 boys) 8- to 10-yr-old children, as determined by V˙O(2max) testing, navigated trafficked roads by walking on a treadmill that was integrated with an immersive virtual world. Child pedestrians crossed the street while undistracted, listening to music, or conversing on a hands-free cellular phone.
Results: Cell phones impaired street crossing success rates compared with the undistracted or music conditions for all participants (P = 0.004), a result that supports previous research. However, individual differences in aerobic fitness influenced these patterns (fitness × condition interaction, P = 0.003). Higher-fit children maintained street crossing success rates across all three conditions (paired t-tests, all P > 0.4), whereas lower-fit children showed decreased success rates when on the phone, relative to the undistracted (P = 0.018) and music (P = 0.019) conditions.
Conclusions: The results suggest that higher levels of childhood aerobic fitness may attenuate the impairment typically associated with multitasking during street crossing. It is possible that superior cognitive abilities of higher-fit children play a role in the performance differences during complex real-world tasks.