A sedentary lifestyle is linked to poorer reading skills for boys

A new Finnish study adds to the long list of negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. More specific the study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Cambridge and recently published in the Journal of Science and Medicine and Sport shows that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to poorer reading skills in the first three school years in 6-8 year old boys.

From the press release:

“Low levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and high levels of sedentary time in Grade 1 were related to better reading skills in Grades 1-3 among boys. We also observed that boys who had a combination of low levels of physical activity and high levels of sedentary time had the poorest reading skills through Grades 1-3,” explains Eero Haapala, PhD, from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä.

The study, constituting part of the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children Study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland and part of the First Steps Study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä, investigated the longitudinal associations of physical activity and sedentary time with reading and arithmetic skills in 153 children aged 6-8 years old in Grades 1-3 of the primary school. Physical activity and sedentary time were measured objectively using a combined heart rate and movement sensor in Grade 1, and reading and arithmetic skills were assessed by standardised tests in Grades 1-3.

The study showed that high levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, low levels of sedentary time, and particularly their combination in Grade 1 were related to better reading skills in Grades 1-3 in boys. High levels of physical activity and low levels of sedentary time were also associated with better arithmetic skills in Grade 1 only in boys. In girls, there were no strong and consistent associations of physical activity and sedentary time with reading or arithmetic skills.

Promoting physically active lifestyle may kick-start boys’ school performance

The results of the study suggest that a combination of low levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and high levels of sedentary time might be particularly harmful for the development of academic skills in boys, and that increasing physical activity, reducing sedentary time, and especially their combination may improve academic achievement.

Abstract of the study (open access):

Objectives
To investigate the independent and combined associations of objectively measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sedentary time (ST) with reading and arithmetic skills.

Design
Cross-sectional/prospective.

Methods
Participants were 89 boys and 69 girls aged 6–8 years. MVPA and ST were measured using a combined heart rate and movement sensor and body fat percentage by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry in Grade 1. Reading fluency, reading comprehension, and arithmetic skills were assessed using standardized tests in Grades 1–3. The data were analyzed using linear regression analyses and analyses of covariance with repeated measures.

Results
In boys, MVPA was directly and ST inversely associated with reading fluency in Grades 1–3 and arithmetic skills in Grade 1 (P < 0.05). Higher levels of MVPA were also related to better reading comprehension in Grade 1 (P < 0.05). Most of the associations of MVPA and ST with reading and arithmetic skills attenuated after mutual adjustment for MVPA or ST. Furthermore, boys with a combination of lower levels of MVPA and higher levels of ST had consistently poorer reading fluency (P = 0.002) and reading comprehension (P = 0.027) across Grades 1–3 than other boys. In girls, ST was directly associated with arithmetic skills in Grade 2 (P < 0.05). However, this relationship of ST with arithmetic skills was no longer significant after adjustment for body fat percentage.

Conclusions
Lower levels of MVPA and higher levels of ST and particularly their combination were related to poorer reading skills in boys. In girls, higher levels of ST were related to better arithmetic skills.

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