Fitness levels of kids in Finland continue to drop | News

Fitness tests indicate a decline in endurance, especially among eighth graders

Eighth graders Crista Hyyryläinen and Sara Rossinen attribute students’ decreasing physical fitness to excessive gaming and lack of exercise. Image: Juuso Stoor / Yle

Nationwide fitness tests conducted in autumn suggest that endurance levels among eighth-grade pupils in Finland have continued to drop over the past two years.

Schools across the country carry out the Move! tests, which evaluate physical fitness in fifth and eighth graders every year.

The programme, which assesses aspects such as endurance, speed and strength, collected data from more than 107,000 students this year.

The average results for eighth-grade girls in the 20-metre line run decreased by 14 seconds this year compared to the previous year, while that of boys decreased by 13 seconds. But over the past two years, the results deteriorated by almost half a minute for both girls and boys, according to Mikko Huhtiniemi, development manager of the Move! Programme.

“The past two years have been a challenging period due to the Covid-19 crisis, which could have contributed to these changes,” Huhtiniemi stated.

A worrying trend

According to Huhtiniemi, in terms of physical fitness categories, endurance results have deteriorated the most since schools first began implementing the Move! tests in 2016.

“It is a worrying trend, because endurance is essential for basic functioning and managing everyday tasks,” he said.

Fifth-grade boys in particular have registered a steady decline in results for the 20-metre line run test over the past five years.

The overall test results, which include data from six sections measuring overall fitness, indicate that 40 percent of fifth and eighth grade students are not fit enough, which means that their current physical condition could have a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing and would make it difficult to cope with everyday life.

“It can lead to them having such a physically demanding day that they do not have enough energy to play with friends in the evening or engage in other activities. It can result in a vicious cycle,” Huhtiniemi added.

According to fifth grader Pauli Lampiaho, the 20-metre line run was the most challenging test in the Move! programme. Image: Juuso Stoor / Yle

Improvements in mobility, core muscles weak

This year’s tests indicated an improvement in mobility skills among male pupils. “The long-term mobility results for boys have improved across the board and that is a small ray of hope. There could be a way to close the gap with girls,” Huhtiniemi stated.

However, female pupils appear to have significantly better mobility skills than their male counterparts. While a quarter of eighth-grade boys were unable to complete a lower back extension adequately, the equivalent figure for girls was only six percent.

Core muscle strength, on the other hand, has decreased in fifth and eighth grade boys as well as girls compared to the previous year.

“While the number of repetitions for both fifth-grade boys and girls reached 30 nearly every year, it has now decreased by two units for girls and three units for boys. It is nonetheless a significant change in the results of tens of thousands of girls and boys. And unfortunately, the same can be seen in eighth graders,” Tommi Vasankari, director of the UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research, stated.

Huhtiniemi points out that even small changes should be taken into account when it comes to a comprehensive study such as Move!, which evaluates a large section of the population.

Regional differences in fitness levels

The study also found several regional differences in physical fitness test results. Fifth and eighth graders in Uusimaa, Pirkanmaa and North Ostrobothnia scored better overall than other regions in Finland.

Lapland and Kainuu, on the other hand, recorded the worst results in the country. The reasons behind these differences remain unclear.

“Schools in the North might conduct longer field trips and excursions, which would mean long periods spent sitting in a car. This could affect the [physical fitness] situation,” Huhtiniemi said.

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