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Aerobic fitness and its relationship to sport, exercise training and habitual physical activity during youth
  1. Neil Armstrong1,
  2. Grant Tomkinson2,
  3. Ulf Ekelund3,4
  1. 1Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  2. 2Health and Use of Time Group, Sanson Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
  3. 3MRC Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  4. 4School of Health and Medical Sciences, Orebro University, Orebro, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Professor Neil Armstrong, Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre, University of Exeter, Northcote House, The Queen's Drive, Exeter EX4 4QJ, UK; n.armstrong{at}


Aim To analyse aerobic fitness and its relationship with sport participation, exercise training and habitual physical activity (HPA) during youth.

Methods Studies were located through computer searches of Medline, SPORT Discus and personal databases. Systematic reviews of time trends in aerobic fitness/performance, and exercise training and peak oxygen uptake (peak VO2) are reported.

Results Peak VO2 increases with age and maturation. Boys' peak VO2 is higher than girls'. Despite data showing a decrease in performance test estimates of aerobic fitness there is no compelling evidence to suggest that young people have low levels of peak VO2 or that it is declining over time. The primary time constant of the VO2 kinetics response to moderate and heavy intensity exercise slows with age and the VO2 kinetics response to heavy intensity exercise is faster in boys. There is a negative correlation between lactate threshold as a percentage of peak VO2 and age but differences related to maturation or sex remain to be proven. Young athletes have higher peak VO2, a faster primary time constant and accumulate less blood lactate at the same relative exercise intensity than their untrained peers. Young people can increase their peak VO2 through exercise training but a meaningful relationship between aerobic fitness and HPA has not been demonstrated.

Conclusions During youth the responses of the components of aerobic fitness vary in relation to age, maturation and sex. Exercise training will enhance aerobic fitness but a relationship between young people's current HPA and aerobic fitness remains to be proven.

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.