Intense physical activity in children may either improve fitness and protect against asthma, or may trigger symptoms. The aim of this study was to determine whether physical fitness in childhood has an impact on the development of asthma. In this prospective, community-based study, 757 (84%) asymptomatic children with an average age at inclusion of 9.7 yrs were followed for 10.5 yrs. In both surveys a maximal progressive exercise test on a bicycle ergometer was used to measure physical fitness (maximal workload) and to induce airway narrowing. A methacholine provocation test was performed in the subjects at follow-up. During the 10-yr study period, 51 (6.7%) of the previously asymptomatic children developed asthma. These subjects had a lower mean physical fitness in 1985 than their peers: (3.63 versus 3.89 W x kg(-1); p=0.02) in boys and (3.17 versus 3.33 W x kg(-1); p=0.02) in girls. A weak correlation was found between physical fitness in childhood and airway responsiveness to methacholine at follow-up when adjusted for body mass index, age and sex (r=0.11; p<0.01). In a multiple regression analysis, physical fitness was inversely related to the development of physician diagnosed asthma, odds ratio=0.93 (0.87-0.99). Thus, the risk for the development of asthma during adolescence is reduced 7% by increasing the maximal workload 1 W x kg(-1). In conclusion, this study showed that physical fitness in childhood is weakly correlated with the development of asthma during adolescence and that high physical fitness seems to be associated with a reduced risk for the development of asthma.