The minimum intensity of physical activity (PA) that is associated with favourable body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) remains unknown.
To investigate cross-sectional associations of PA and sedentary time (ST) with body composition and CRF in mid-childhood.
PA, ST, body composition and CRF were measured in a population-based sample of 410 children (aged 7.6 ± 0.4 years). Combined heart-rate and movement sensing provided estimates of PA energy expenditure (PAEE, kJ/kg/day) and time (min/day) at multiple fine-grained metabolic equivalent (MET) levels, which were also collapsed to ST and light PA (LPA), moderate PA (MPA) and vigorous PA (VPA). Fat mass index (FMI, kg/m2), trunk fat mass index (TFMI, kg/m2) and fat-free mass index (FFMI, kg/m2.5) were derived from dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Maximal workload from a cycle ergometer test provided a measure of CRF (W/kg FFM). Linear regression and isotemporal substitution models were used to investigate associations.
The cumulative time above 2 METs (221 J/min/kg) was inversely associated with FMI and TFMI in both sexes (p < 0.001) whereas time spent above 3 METs was positively associated with CRF (p ≤ 0.002); CRF increased and adiposity decreased dose-dependently with increasing MET levels. ST was positively associated with FMI and TFMI (p < 0.001) but there were inverse associations between all PA categories (including LPA) and adiposity (p ≤ 0.002); the magnitude of these associations depended on the activity being displaced in isotemporal substitution models but were consistently stronger for VPA. PAEE, MPA and to a greater extent VPA, were all positively related to CRF (p ≤ 0.001).
PA exceeding 2 METs is associated with lower adiposity in mid-childhood, whereas PA of 3 METs is required to benefit CRF. VPA was most beneficial for fitness and fatness, from a time-for-time perspective, but displacing any lower-for-higher intensity may be an important first-order public health strategy.
Clinical trial registry number (website): NCT01803776 (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01803776).