Children Are Basically Endurance Athletes

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 24, 2018 2:10 pm
(Credit: MOnkey BUsiness Images)

(Credit: Monkey Business Images)

If you’ve ever tried to keep up with a child on the playground, only to collapse in a panting heap, take heart. You might as well be trying to compete with a triathlete.

Researchers from France and Australia conducted a physiological test comparing 8- to 12-year-old boys with both untrained adult men and endurance athletes. The children, despite having no special training, were more comparable to the runners and triathlon competitors, the scientists say. Their bodies were better at producing energy aerobically and recovered from exertion much faster than normal men, and their heart rates returned to baseline even faster than those of the athletes. Oh, to be a child again.

No Sweat

The researchers used a standard cycling test to measure the fitness of 12 untrained boys, 12 untrained men and 13 endurance athletes — runners, cyclers and triathletes who trained at least 6 days a week. They measured their abilities to produce energy both aerobically and anaerobically — with or without oxygen, respectively — as well as things like their heart rates, rates of oxygen uptake, the production of waste products in the muscles, and their recovery rates. In all, it was a comprehensive look at how well their bodies dealt with exertion.

And the children dealt quite well. While they weren’t as strong as the adults, the children had better aerobic fitness, were better at producing power when their aerobic capabilities were maxed out, had a lower fatigue index and recovered faster than the untrained adults. In most regards, in fact, they got scores similar to those of the endurance athletes, the researchers say in research published today in Frontiers in Physiology.

No Exercise, No Problem

The children seemed to rely more on oxidative energy sources, the researchers say, meaning their aerobic muscle cells were relatively more active. These cells offer greater endurance, and it helps to explain why children don’t tire as quickly as adults do. They also recover faster because their bodies produce fewer of the byproducts of muscle breakdown, like lactate, that result in sore, weak muscles, and remove them from the bloodstream more quickly.

Those same abilities show up in endurance athletes who train their bodies to maximize aerobic efficiency and limit the production of these waste products. The children, however, didn’t even have to work for it.

The researchers suggest that children might have more efficient muscles to compensate for some of the obvious physical shortcomings of childhood. Not only are children smaller than adults, but their cardiovascular systems aren’t as capable, and they usually haven’t learned to move as efficiently as adults do.

Their findings could be used to help study the many diseases that arise from physical inactivity, the researchers suggest, as well as offer some insights into how our bodies change as we grow into adulthood. In addition, it says that children involved in sports don’t really need endurance training, and are better off focusing on strength, they say.

And for the rest of us, it hints that it might be possible to reclaim something of our childhood exuberance. It just takes a whole lot of training.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health
  • Uncle Al

    Children are mostly skeleton with large surface to volume ratio to shed heat. Meat eats oxygen by volume, lungs exchange gas by surface area. They have more brown fat, too.

    Children don’t have strength. That is how you bring them down.

    • RivkaMaria

      Bring them down? Wow, Uncle….you’re weird.

    • RivkaMaria

      ‘Bring them down’?

      Children are mostly water, that stuff your cranium is filled with.

      • William Holz

        All currently used craniums share a similar ratio, yes! That’s how you maintain the environment that crazy ball of molecular machines needs to survive.

        Clearly @Xemist:disqus is taking seriously the the youth pose to this world and has his plans for the ‘children apocalypse’ in order.

    • Gerald Wonnacott

      Funny, Al, although most kids could take you down in seconds, you are weak!

  • RivkaMaria

    I see this fact played out in my very active grandkids every day. 😀

  • TLongmire

    A small number of individuals possess a gene that allows them to not produce lactic acid and other waste products so perhaps there are genes that are switched on during puberty that are causing most of us to lose endurance but not all. CRISPR should be used to remove/replace this gene that causes us to become run down.


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