Date of Submission



Introduction: Physical activity could promote students’ school engagement (i.e., level of active participation in school activities, positive reactions to school, and investment in school) and academic performance. Studies have found that single bouts of physical activity and regular physical activity promote educational outcomes, including school engagement and academic performance. However, as these studies have not objectively measured single bouts of physical activity or regular physical activity across multiple time points, there is uncertainty as to whether physical activity is beneficial. Therefore, the primary objective of this thesis was to examine the relationship between objectively measured physical activity and school engagement. The secondary objective was to examine the relationship between objectively measured physical activity and academic performance. Methods: The study designs utilised included a systematic review and meta-analysis (Study 1), a cross-sectional study (Study 2), and a longitudinal study (Study 3). The meta-analysis combined the results from 38 studies using a structural equation modelling approach to meta-analysis. The cross-sectional and longitudinal studies recruited a cohort of 2,194 Australian adolescents (M.=.13.40 years, SD.=..73). In the cross-sectional study, adolescents wore an accelerometer during the hour before a mathatmatics lesson to measure physical activity, and completed a questionnaire after the mathematics lesson to assess mathematics engagement. In the longitudinal study, adolescents wore an accelerometer for seven consecutive days to measure regular physical activity, completed a questionnaire to assess usual mathematics engagement, and participated in a standardised mathematics test to measure academic performance. Results: The systematic review and meta-analysis combined evidence from 38 studies addressing the relationship between physical activity and school engagement and concluded that promoting physical activity could benefit school engagement. This study also uncovered two major limitations in the existing literature that would direct subsequent studies. The cross-sectional study found that a single bout of moderate-intensity activity could yield benefits for cognitive mathematics engagement. In contrast, the longitudinal study found that regular total physical activity did not improve mathematics engagement, but was nevertheless beneficial for academic performance. Conclusion: Overall, physical activity could improve school engagement and academic performance. Specifically, single bouts of physical activity could enhance school engagement, while regular total physical activity could improve academic performance.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


228 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Health Sciences

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Education Commons