If you have ever wondered why children seem to have boundless energy, it probably won’t surprise you to know their capacity for exercise and recovery is equivalent to that of world-class athletes. That’s the finding of a group of researchers in France and Australia in a report published in Frontiers in Physiology.
Researchers compared a group of 8-12 year-old boys that did not normally participate in any regular rigorous physical activity with two sets of adults of different fitness levels. One group of adults did not normally participate in any regular rigorous physical activity and the other group consisted of endurance athletes who were national-level competitors in triathlons or long-distance running or cycling.
Each group was put through a series of tests on a stationary bicycle to measure aerobic and anaerobic output. Their hear rates, oxygen levels and blood lactate-removal rates were checked to see how quickly they recovered. The children outperformed the untrained adults on every level and recovered even faster than the endurance athletes.
"During many physical tasks, children might tire earlier than adults because they have limited cardiovascular capability, tend to adopt less-efficient movement patterns and need to take more steps to move a given distance,” said exercise physiology professor Sébastien Ratel. “Our research shows children have overcome some of these limitations through the development of fatigue-resistant muscles and the ability to recover very quickly from high-intensity exercise. This may explain why children seem to have the ability to play and play and play, long after adults have become tired.”
While there have been previous studies comparing the exercise and recovery level of children and adults, this is believed to be the first such comparison of children and high-level endurance athletes.
"We found the children used more of their aerobic metabolism and were therefore less tired during the high-intensity physical activities," Ratel said. "They also recovered very quickly—even faster than the well-trained adult endurance athletes—as demonstrated by their faster heart-rate recovery and ability to remove blood lactate.”
As a result of the findings, Ratel suggests parents looking to help develop the athletic potential of their children should focus on skill development rather than conditioning.
“Our study shows that muscle endurance is often very good in children, so it might be better to focus on other areas of fitness such as their sports technique, sprint speed or muscle strength,” Ratel said. “This may help to optimize physical training in children, so that they perform better and enjoy sports more."