Pediatric Review

International Journal of Obesity (2008) 32, 1–11; doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803774; published online 4 December 2007

Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence: a powerful marker of health

F B Ortega1,2, J R Ruiz1,2, M J Castillo1 and M Sjöström2

  1. 1Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Granada, Granada, Spain
  2. 2Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at NOVUM, Unit for Preventive Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden

Correspondence: Dr FB Ortega, Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at NOVUM, Unit for Preventive Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Stockholm 14157, Sweden. E-mail:

Received 9 September 2007; Revised 28 October 2007; Accepted 30 October 2007; Published online 4 December 2007.



This review aims to summarize the latest developments with regard to physical fitness and several health outcomes in young people. The literature reviewed suggests that (1) cardiorespiratory fitness levels are associated with total and abdominal adiposity; (2) both cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness are shown to be associated with established and emerging cardiovascular disease risk factors; (3) improvements in muscular fitness and speed/agility, rather than cardiorespiratory fitness, seem to have a positive effect on skeletal health; (4) both cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness enhancements are recommended in pediatric cancer patients/survivors in order to attenuate fatigue and improve their quality of life; and (5) improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness have positive effects on depression, anxiety, mood status and self-esteem, and seem also to be associated with a higher academic performance. In conclusion, health promotion policies and physical activity programs should be designed to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, but also two other physical fitness components such us muscular fitness and speed/agility. Schools may play an important role by identifying children with low physical fitness and by promoting positive health behaviors such as encouraging children to be active, with special emphasis on the intensity of the activity.


fitness, health, adiposity, cardiovascular disease risk factors, bone, children

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