Regular physical activity and educational outcomes in youth: A longitudinal study [accepted manuscript]

Katherine B. Owen, Australian Catholic University
Philip D. Parker, Australian Catholic University
Thomas Astell-Burt
Chris Lonsdale, Australian Catholic University

© 2018. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license


Purpose. The objectives of this study were to to determine whether longitudinal changes in accelerometer-assessed moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were associated with changes in educational outcomes (i.e., academic performance and mathematics engagement), and to examine whether the association was non-linear. Methods. Longitudinal data was collected from 2,194 Australian adolescents (mean age.=.13.40.years, SD.=..73) at two timepoints (Term 1 2014 and Term 2 2015). To measure total MVPA, adolescents wore an accelerometer for seven consecutive days. Participants responded to a questionnaire to measure mathematics engagement and completed a nationally administered numeracy test to assess academic performance. Results. Latent change score models indicated that increases in MVPA had a positive quadratic association with NAPLAN scores in girls (β = .39, p < .001), but not boys. In comparison, cross-sectional regression analyses indicated that MVPA had a positive quadratic association with NAPLAN scores in Grade 7 (β = .92, p = .04) boys and Grade 9 boys (β = .60, p = .06), but not girls. There was a also positive quadratic association between MVPA and school engagement for Grade 9 boys (β = .77, p = .03). Conclusions. Cross-sectional evidence indicated that boys who were more physically active had better educational outcomes than their less active peers, and girls who increased their regular physical activity showed improvements in academic performance. All students need to increase their physical activity levels for the health and educational benefits, without compromising time spent on study and homework.