This study preliminarily examined the relationship between physical activity, sedentary time, and social emotional functioning in children aged 4–6 years.
Eighty children attending kindergarden classes in Ottawa, Canada wore Actical accelerometers for 1-week to directly assess their physical activity and sedentary time. Physical activity was quantified as minutes per day in light intensity or moderate intensity, and steps per day, while sedentary time was quantified as minutes per day. Social emotional functioning attributes were assessed by teachers using the Devereux Students Strengths Assessment.
After controlling for age, sex, household-income and school clustering using multilevel regression models, steps per day were positively associated with social awareness β = 1.537, CI = 0.115–2.959) self-awareness (β = 1.285, CI = 0.014–2.555), relationship skills (β = 1.729, CI = 0.238–3.219), personal responsibilities (β = 1.689, CI = 0.101–3.276), and optimistic thinking (β = 1.091, CI = 0.251–2.157). Moderate physical activity was positively associated with relationship skills (β = 1.598, CI = 0.065–3.131) and optimistic thinking (β = 1.515, CI = 0.069–2.234). Time spent in light physical activity and sedentary time were not associated with social emotional functioning indicators.
Physical activity as measured by steps per day and time spent in moderate physical activity was associated with better social emotional functioning. Future research is needed to verify these preliminary findings and determine the directionality of relationships observed, and experimental studies are needed to determine whether promoting either increased steps per day or intensity of physical activity can improve social emotional functioning in the early years.