Background: It is recommended that school-aged children accrue 30 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in school. Current literature is inconclusive about the long-term associations between school-based physical activity and academic achievement. In this study, we use a large sample and longitudinal design to rigorously evaluate whether school-day MVPA is associated with academic achievement.
Methods: In a diverse suburban public school district, 4936 Grade 4 students were recruited in 40 elementary schools. Students wore accelerometers to measure school-day MVPA for 15 days across three semesters. Academic performance data was collected across Grade 3 fall to Grade 5 spring, including teacher-assigned grades and standardized test scores. Multilevel modeling was conducted controlling for student demographics and school characteristics.
Results: Cross-sectional analyses found small negative associations in Grade 4. Grade 4 full-year mean daily school-day MVPA had β = −-0.066, β = −-0.063, β = −-0.066, and β = −-0.058 associations (p < 0.001) with Grade 4 math, reading, spelling, and writing grades respectively, and Grade 4 full-year mean daily school-day MVPA had β = −-0.206 and β = −-0.283 (p < 0.001) associations with Grade 4 math and English Language Arts (ELA) standardized test scores respectively out of approximately 500 points. Longitudinal analyses found no significant associations between Grade 4 full-year mean daily school-day MVPA and Grade 5 Fall course grades. Results also indicated small negative associations for students attaining 30+ minutes of daily school-day MVPA compared to those attaining less than 15 minutes, but only in Grade 4 Fall cross-sectional analyses where teacher-assigned reading, spelling, and writing grades were − 1.666, − 1.638, and − 1.993 points lower respectively (p < 0.001).
Conlcusion: The cross-sectional findings, while statistically significant in a negative direction, have a negligible association when translated practically. For example, even if students attained twice the recommended amount of school-day MVPA – which would constitute an approximately 300% increase from current levels – results suggest that grades would only decrease by 2 points on a 100-point scale. Furthermore, longitudinal analyses suggest school-day MVPA does not have a predictive association with course grades or standardized test scores. Findings suggest school-based MVPA implemented in accordance with recommendations does not meaningfully detract from academic progress.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT03765047. Registered 05 December 2018 - Retrospectively registered, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03765047
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Elish, Paul N.; Bryan, Cassandra S.; Boedeker, Peter J.; Calvert, Hannah G.; Kay, Christi M.; Meyer, Adria M.; and Gazmararian, Julie A. (2022). "The Longitudinal Association Between Objectively-Measured School-Day Physical Activity and Academic Achievement in US Elementary School Students". International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 19, 90. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-022-01328-7