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» Role of Childhood Aerobic Fitness in Successful Street Crossing

Role of Childhood Aerobic Fitness in Successful Street Crossing

LAURA CHADDOCK1,2, MARK B. NEIDER3, AUBREY LUTZ2, CHARLES H. HILLMAN2,4, and ARTHUR F. KRAMER1,2

1Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL; 2Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL; 3Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL; and 4Department of Kinesiology & Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL

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 role of childhood aerobic fitness on 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.  Method:  A street intersection was modeled in a virtual environment, and higher-fit (N=13, 7 boys) and lower-fit (N=13, 5 boys) 8-10 year-old children, as determined by VO2 max 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 to 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 x condition interaction, p=0.003).  Higher-fit children maintained street crossing success rates across all three conditions (paired t-tests, all p > 0.4), while lower-fit children showed decreased success rates when on the phone, relative to the undistracted (p=0.018) and music (p=0.019) conditions.  Conclusion: 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.