Again: High levels of physical activity linked to better academic performance in boys

Earlier this week I blogged in Dutch about the positive effect of physical activity on ADHD symptoms (check the actual research here). For people who once saw BBC’s ‘The Classroom Experiment” the positive effect of physical activity won’t come as a surprise. But new Finnish research has added evidence to this knowledge, although with a new element concerning gender. This recent Finnish study shows that higher levels of physical activity are related to better academic achievement during the first three school years particularly in boys, but much less in girls. The study published in PLOS ONE was conducted in collaboration with the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland and the First Steps Study at the University of Jyväskylä.

From the press release:

The study investigated the relationships of different types of physical activity and sedentary behavior assessed in the first grade to reading and arithmetic skills in grades 1𔃁 among 186 Finnish children. Higher levels of physical activity at recess were related to better reading skills and participation in organized sports was linked to higher arithmetic test scores in grades 1𔃁. Particularly boys with higher levels of physical activity, and especially walking and bicycling to and from school, had better reading skills than less active boys. Furthermore, boys who spent more time doing activities involving reading and writing on their leisure time had better reading skills compared to boys who spent less time doing those activities. Moreover, boys with more computer and video game time achieved higher arithmetic test scores than boys with less computer and video game time.

In girls, there were only few associations of physical activity and sedentary behavior with academic achievement when various confounding factors were controlled for.

The findings of the present study highlight the potential of physical activity during recess and participation in organized sports in the improvement of academic achievement in children. Particularly boys´ school success may benefit from higher levels of physical activity and active school transportation, reading and writing as well as moderate computer and video game use.

Abstract of the research:

 Background

There are no prospective studies that would have compared the relationships of different types of physical activity (PA) and sedentary behavior (SB) with academic skills among children. We therefore investigated the associations of different types of PA and SB with reading and arithmetic skills in a follow-up study among children.

Methods

The participants were 186 children (107 boys, 79 girls, 6–8 yr) who were followed-up in Grades 1–3. PA and SB were assessed using a questionnaire in Grade 1. Reading fluency, reading comprehension and arithmetic skills were assessed using standardized tests at the end of Grades 1–3.

Results

Among all children more recess PA and more time spent in SB related to academic skills were associated with a better reading fluency across Grades 1–3. In boys, higher levels of total PA, physically active school transportation and more time spent in SB related to academic skills were associated with a better reading fluency across the Grades 1–3. Among girls, higher levels of total PA were related to worse arithmetic skills across Grades 1–3. Moreover, total PA was directly associated with reading fluency and arithmetic skills in Grades 1–3 among girls whose parents had a university degree, whereas these relationships were inverse in girls of less educated parents.

Conclusions

Total PA, physically active school transportation and SB related to academic skills may be beneficial for the development of reading skills in boys, whereas factors that are independent of PA or SB may be more important for academic skills in girls.

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